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5 options for D.C. United in Stage 1 of the 2018 MLS Re-Entry Draft

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Today is about savvy bargain shopping rather than making a big splash

Let’s get it out of the way early: this year’s MLS Re-Entry Draft pool is shallow, and there’s a pretty decent chance D.C. United ends up taking somewhere between zero and one player in both stages. Nonetheless, it’s a fun chance to play GM for a minute, so we’ve studied the list of eligible players, made a spreadsheet like real nerds, and have our speculative options that make some kind of sense for the Black-and-Red, who go on the clock sometime after 3:00pm today.

Before we start, a reminder of what taking a player today would mean for United. In stage 1, teams are effectively picking up the option on players whose option was declined by someone else; there’s no negotiation involved. These players are on your roster immediately. Picking one of the handful of players who are out of contract but were not eligible for MLS free agency means you are required offer them a deal that at least matches their 2018 salary (what MLS calls a “bona fide offer”). These players aren’t on your roster until they sign your offer.

These rules are why stage 2 is the far more active round, and the round with bigger names among the selection. The margins in MLS are slim enough that it’s unusual to see teams disagree over which contracts are too costly to such an extent that everyone will opt not to wait for the chance to negotiate a lower price tag in stage 2.

Got all that? Alright, let’s get to the speculating!

Jonathan Campbell

Position: Center back
Former club: Chicago Fire
2018 salary: $120,175 base, $128,300 guaranteed

We heard consistent rumblings that United was interested in the 25-year-old North Carolina native both before and after the 2016 SuperDraft, where Chicago made him the 12th overall pick. Campbell’s career hasn’t been perfect — Chicago had two terrible seasons in his three years there, and he was only a full-time starter in one of them — but a big part of that has been the dysfunction in the Fire organization. This is MLS, there are always solid players on bad teams who probably just need a change of scenery.

Another issue is what Veljko Paunovic sees the role of center back including as compared to Ben Olsen’s vision. Paunovic has deployed players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Brandon Vincent there, prioritizing passing, vision, and the ability to shift into wider spots so a defensive midfielder can drop in between in possession. While Olsen has certainly evolved from the Bobby Boswell days, including making a couple of substitutions to improve United’s passing at center back, he’s still tended to prefer a center back who can do the defending and win aerial battles first and foremost.

That’s who Campbell is. With Kofi Opare both injured and more of a “we’ll reconsider in preseason,” Frederic Brillant turning 34 next year, and Jalen Robinson still coming in at 5’9”, United is looking for at least one central defender. Campbell is not the Best XI-level player some of us might like to see United pursue in that spot, but he’d be a pretty solid choice at a reasonable salary figure.

Drew Conner

Position: Right back/defensive midfield
Former club: Chicago Fire
2018 salary: $68,907 base/guaranteed

I know you’re thinking that this is one too many Chicago player, but let’s consider United’s situation roster-wise. Oniel Fisher could miss a huge portion of the 2019 season, Nick DeLeon is looking less than 50/50 to carry on with the Black-and-Red, and Chris Odoi-Atsem is fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the moment, their starting right back on opening day would be Robinson, who is not really a right back.

On top of that, United could find themselves short at defensive midfield. Russell Canouse has long merited USMNT consideration, and we don’t know how Gregg Berhalter sees him just yet. Chris Durkin seems sure to play for the United States in the Under-20 World Cup next May, and Junior Moreno is going to keep getting call-ups for Venezuela. The need for someone to fill in here is going to come up.

Conner (24) isn’t an eye-catching player, but he doesn’t have many weaknesses either, and at this price point you’re looking for someone you can put on the field in a simple, clear role and reliably get solid, if unspectacular performances. If the club isn’t interested in bringing Jared Jeffrey back, Conner makes sense to take his place on the roster, and with Loudoun United coming online he’ll have a place to play regularly when the starters are available.

Ariel Lassiter

Position: Winger/forward
Former club: LA Galaxy
2018 salary: $67,500 base/guaranteed

The son of former United goalscoring ace Roy Lassiter hasn’t broken through with the Galaxy, playing just 504 MLS minutes in four full seasons. However, he’s still just 24, has both US under-23 and Costa Rica under-23 caps on his resume, and made 12 appearances as a 20 year old playing in Sweden’s second division before joining LA.

His MLS record is not a great indicator, I’ll give you that, but this is also the Galaxy, a team that has no idea how to develop the guys they have playing for Galaxy II into first-team regulars, and a club that can only solve its attacking problems by signing Designated Players. For a promising young player, they were a pretty atrocious club to be stuck at.

Lassiter bounced back and forth between MLS and USL on gamedays, making the Galaxy bench often enough that he only made 12 appearances for the club’s B team. In those games, though, he was very productive: 5 goals and 4 assists in 798 minutes is bordering on dominant. In 2017, the situation was similar, as were the results: 5 goals in 659 minutes, and 8 key passes (though he didn’t get an assist).

Think of Lassiter as taking over Dane Kelly’s place within the squad. He’s more versatile than Kelly (in fact, he’s probably a little more winger than he is striker), which is helpful. He’d probably spend most of his time playing for Loudoun, which seems pretty appealing. After all, while United’s top goal is developing youngsters there, the fact is that they didn’t opt to play in the USL Championship and pony up the cash to build a stadium for a team that’s going to send out a bunch of 17 year olds to get steamrolled every week. Lassiter can contribute in MLS, and would be an outstanding attacking player for Loudoun.

Of all the players on this list, I think he’s the most intriguing for today’s stage 1.

Femi Hollinger-Janzen

Position: Winger/forward
Former club: New England Revolution
2018 salary: $67,500 base/guaranteed

Revs fans have been positive about the 25 year old from Benin, and it’s easy to see the appeal. “Femi” may not be the most technical player, but he never fails to bring a high-energy, fast, and physical approach either as a right winger or up top. Under Jay Heaps, Hollinger-Janzen only got 2 starts in 2 years, but racked up 30 appearances off the bench. He’s the kind of guy that creates chaos, which can be pretty vital if you’re in need of a goal and find yourself in a game that is just sort of passing you by.

Brad Friedel had a very different opinion of Hollinger-Janzen, and he ended up not making a single appearance in 2018. Friedel’s “my way or the highway” approach saw him routinely make some fairly odd choices, though, and it might be worth taking a flyer on what would essentially be a free player. Hollinger-Janzen would, like Lassiter, probably play more for Loudoun than D.C., but he’d be a pretty solid back-up for Ulises Segura in terms of having a rough-and-tumble presence in the attack.

John McCarthy

Position: Goalkeeper
Former club: Philadelphia Union
2018 salary: $95,000 base, $104,250 guaranteed

McCarthy is the only player on this list who falls under the “out of contract” provision back near the top, so picking him wouldn’t come with a guarantee that he’d actually end up here. The 26 year old parlayed a 2014 USL Rookie of the Year season with the Rochester Rhinos into a deal with Philadelphia, and between Philly’s long Open Cup runs and Andre Blake’s injuries and international commitments, he’s seen more action than most MLS back-ups would (21 MLS starts to go with a majority of the Union’s USOC outings in that time). He stayed sharp in between games by playing for Bethlehem Steel, making 26 starts over three years.

The 6’3” McCarthy is something of a penalty kick specialist, having come through for the Union numerous times in cup play. In terms of overall ability, I’d rate him somewhere between United’s 2018 back-ups. The important thing here is that he’s more consistent than Travis Worra, and as compared to David Ousted he’s younger and much less expensive.

Is it a risk, with Bill Hamid’s injury history, to possibly roll with McCarthy as the primary back-up instead of Ousted? Absolutely. Ousted is the better goalkeeper, even if he failed to post any particularly convincing games in 2018. However, the bigger risk for United is spending nearly $400,000 on a back-up ‘keeper when they’re already hemmed in by the salary budget as is. Ousted’s deal is guaranteed, so there’s no negotiating him down, which means the trade interest Steve Goff reported yesterday is quite appealing. We’re talking about roughly $284,000 of free space if United can send the Dane elsewhere and nabs McCarthy today.