The 2016 MLS SuperDraft is just four days away, and D.C. United should be expected to add a player of some note with the 13th overall pick. Per Ben Olsen himself, the Black-and-Red expect to land "a piece that helps us." What that doesn't tell us is what players we should be expecting United to pursue on Thursday at the Baltimore Convention Center. DCU is firmly in the "best player available" camp rather than drafting for position, but that's not to indicate that position doesn't have some influence (see: Taylor Kemp in 2013).
With that in mind, let's take a look at United's roster today and see if we can't narrow the list of potential draftees down a bit:
With Bill Hamid and Travis Worra under contract and Andrew Dykstra believed to be likely to re-sign, United can probably focus their efforts elsewhere. There isn't a completely obvious long-term successor for Hamid (should he opt to leave for Europe in the next year or so) in this draft field, so there's not a great argument for investing in the future here either.
However, if Dykstra is hesitant about his salary or his role within the team, United does have one option that would make plenty of sense. Clemson's Andrew Tarbell was arguably the most important player for the Tigers in their run to the College Cup final, and he's a Generation Adidas player to boot. That means United, for salary cap purposes, would have a free player on their roster.
With Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Kofi Opare all in place and Markus Halsti available to fill in, central defense is a position United shouldn't be worrying about (at least for 2016). However, center backs are one of the more reliable selections in the draft over the past half-decade. If United's brain trust decides that one of these rookies is close to as good as Opare currently is, they might opt to grab a central defender and trade Opare, who would fetch pretty good value around MLS.
It's not a likely sequence of events, but there are center backs that make it worth at least considering such a course of action. Georgetown's Josh Yaro would require trading down to a Chicago Fire side in horrible need of defenders, but he's not the only CB in the pool. North Carolina's Jonathan Campbell is the most highly-rated center back after Yaro, and if he fell to 13 - which is pretty unlikely given the needs of the teams picking early - United might have to pounce. Clemson's Kyle Fisher and Michigan St. product Zach Carroll are also interesting center back prospects if this is the plan for DCU.
Need: Short term medium, long term low
Chris Korb, if following a normal recovery schedule from a torn ACL, is over six weeks away from training (much less playing in a competitive game). In 2015, Olsen indicated that Jalen Robinson isn't ready for MLS starts and chose to use Birnbaum, Nick DeLeon, and even Miguel Aguilar as a fullback rather than bring Luke Mishu into games. Unless one or both of those youngsters forces the issue and moves up in Olsen's estimation, United is one injury or red card from fielding an emergency fill-in as a fullback until Korb is fit.
That's not a great reason to make a selection in the draft, though. Long-term, you can recover from having to play an odd lineup or two in March and April with wins down the road. In all likelihood, United would only be taking a fullback if they felt that they were getting someone as good or better than Korb.
Brandon Vincent - recently added to Jurgen Klinsmann's January camp roster - would be a great pick-up for any team, but as he's a left back who looks ready to start MLS matches straight away, he will not be on the board at 13. United would have to trade down, and probably pay a steep price to do so. Georgetown right back Keegan Rosenberry - the subject of a failed Homegrown claim from the Philadelphia Union - seems likely to go in the top 10, but could still be there when United picks. Jordan McCrary could still be available, and he actually reminds me quite a bit of Korb (capable of playing on either side, undersized but ultra-competitive, etc). It's worth noting that Top Drawer Soccer has United selecting McCrary as of right now.
Defensive and/or central midfield
With Perry Kitchen all but gone and Davy Arnaud's status unknown, United either has to make some signings or risk facing Queretaro with a Halsti-DeLeon central midfield in the CONCACAF Champions League. We've heard throughout the offseason that Dave Kasper went to France in pursuit of a Ligue 1 holding midfielder, and the rumors around Leonardo Gil - who describes himself as a defensive midfielder, even as other reports have said he's an attacking player - are perhaps not dead either.
However, even with signings there's no guarantee that the new faces will succeed in MLS. A hopefully healthy Collin Martin may ameliorate some of the problem, but United should still be intrigued with the 6s and 8s available in this pool. Omar Holness, a UNC Tarheel who already has a cap for Jamaica's national team, may or may not fit the bill as a #8. However, there is talk about him being considered a wide player at the pro level, and in any case his Generation Adidas status means he won't likely be on the board for United.
There's another GA option that may have more of a chance of being available when United is on the clock. Julian Buescher - a former Germany u18 national team player - was an attacking midfielder for Syracuse, but he's a more natural central or holding midfielder. Soccer By Ives has United grabbing him at 13, and it would be hard to complain about that. There is some suspicion about his ability to cover the ground needed in United's 442, but his talent as a passer makes him intriguing (particularly if Gil or the Ligue 1 signing is able to cover a ton of ground).
Other options here include James Moberg out of Washington (and frequently assumed to be a target for Seattle) and Virginia's Todd Wharton. Moberg is more of a linking mid than a pure #6, while Wharton is more of a pure holding player (and, at least in my book, a bit overrated).
One wild card name to remember: Jorginho James, who has 2 years of pro experience with Harbour View FC in Jamaica as well as 3 caps for the Reggae Boyz. James won a spot at the college combine by drawing interest during an MLS-run combine in the Caribbean. Let's be clear: 2 years of professional play at one of Jamaica's best-run clubs is more impressive than most NCAA resumes. James has a reputation as a physical, hard-working presence, and that sounds like a player United would be interested in.
Wide or attacking midfield
With no role for a #10 in their formation and the acquisitions of Patrick Nyarko and Lamar Neagle, this isn't a position of particular need for DC. However, this is often the role the best available player happens to have in the middle of the first round, so United might still end up with a wide midfielder or a more attack-minded central midfielder. Holness could also fit in here, but we've already discussed him.
Staying in North Carolina, there are two different Wake Forest products to consider. I think United would love to take Jack Harrison, but the English GA midfielder isn't going to see 12 teams pass on him. That's a shame, because Harrison's playmaking ability and athleticism seem like a good combination to make an impact either as a left winger or as an attacking midfielder in MLS. Garnering slightly less attention is Michael Gamble, a Maryland native who scored plenty of goals as a forward for the Demon Deacons. There is reason to believe that he could be more of a winger in MLS due to his size, and SBI compared him to Columbus winger Ethan Finlay. United could use another shifty attacker, and it seems to me that Gamble could learn quite a bit from Chris Rolfe.
Generation Adidas player Richie Laryea has the pedigree - Akron, and before that highly-rated Canadian club side Sigma FC - but maybe not the certainty over where he'll play at the next level. No one seems quite sure if Laryea will end up as a second forward, a wide midfielder, or an attacking midfielder in MLS. That's often a bad sign for players heading into the draft, as MLS clubs have long showed an aversion to "tweeners." Personally, I'd be surprised to see United grab Laryea, but he is a talented player.
Jairo Arrieta's departure leaves a hole in United's portfolio of strikers. Rolfe and Fabian Espindola are clearly first-choice, and Alvaro Saborio is going to see plenty of minutes as a change of pace. However, none of those three is fast, and if Espindola is unavailable there will be questions about mobility on both sides of the ball. United needs one more goal-dangerous forward on their roster, at least in my opinion.
It looks like the top forward prospect is Fabian Herbers, who scored for fun this year for Creighton and finished second to Jordan Morris for the M.A.C. Hermann Award (college soccer's MVP). It's still not certain that he is actually coming to MLS, but the word from the combine is that he's going to sign a GA contract:
I'm told Fabian Herbers has signed a Generation adidas deal and will be in the #MLSDraft . That's big for a class that is light on forwards.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) January 8, 2016
United will have to trade up to pick Herbers, and not just by a couple of spots. He'll go in the top 5 if Galarcep's sources are correct. Herbers would take up an international spot (he's German), but he looks set to produce in MLS as a rookie.
The other option that intrigues me is Syracuse striker Ben Polk. Polk is a US-born player who spent years abroad, and per Matt Doyle scouts are comparing him to Dom Dwyer. A fast, feisty, pest of a forward? Sounds like an improvement on Arrieta in my book, and he'd provide a different look from what United's other forwards would provide. Like his Orange teammate Buescher, I think there's a real chance that United selects him.