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5 options for D.C. United in Stage 2 of the 2018 MLS Re-Entry Draft

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United might be able to find attacking depth tomorrow

MLS’s 2018 Re-Entry Draft will finish up tomorrow, as the typically more interesting stage 2 will take place at 2:00pm. Like nearly everyone, D.C. United passed in stage 1, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Clubs are on the hook for a contract that a different MLS club specifically decided was not a smart move. It’s rare to see significant disagreement on that front around the league, and when you do see it, the players involved are not big names.

That generally changes in stage 2, where clubs are simply selecting the MLS rights to a player for a limited window. If you pick someone, you have a week to submit what MLS deems a “bona fide offer” to the player, and negotiate from there. If you make such an offer and the player opts to play somewhere other than MLS, you retain his rights (which is why United still has the MLS rights to Gonzalo Veron).

Before we get to the list, let’s go back over the options I outlined for stage 1. Usually you can think of those players as even more interesting in stage 2, but that’s not the case here. If Drew Conner, Ariel Lassiter, and Femi Hollinger-Janzen weren’t interesting to United at the senior minimum, well, there’s nowhere to go from there. Lassiter, for what it’s worth, has already signed with LD Alajuelense in Costa Rica. We can also probably rule out John McCarthy, given that United just picked up Earl Edwards Jr. instead.

That leaves us with Jonathan Campbell, who is probably going to be unavailable by the time United is up. Expect one of the many teams with awful defenses to nab him early. Still, if he’s on the board when United is up at #13, the stuff I said about him last week (click the “outlined for stage 1” link above if you didn’t catch it) still applies, and now he’d be cheaper. United’s pursuit of homegrown center back Donovan Pines might have an impact here, as landing the Maryland Terrapins star would give the team four center backs. We’ll see.

That’s the preamble. Let’s get down to business. Here’s the full list of eligible players. Like last time, we’re proceeding alphabetically rather than in terms of how viable the player is for United:

Michael de Leeuw

Position: Winger/forward
Former club: Chicago Fire
2018 salary: $525,000 base, $589,213 guaranteed

The Dutch attacker is first on this list, but he’s not the highest priority player here. This is more of a move to make if United’s talks with Velez Sarsfield and their efforts to figure out how to amortize Yamil Asad’s transfer fee aren’t working. de Leeuw only played 454 minutes this season after tearing his ACL right at the end of the 2017 season, but in that time (roughly 5 full games) on a very bad Fire team, he still managed 2 goals and 2 assists.

That’s only slightly above average for de Leeuw, whose MLS career totals are 12 goals and 13 assists in 57 appearances. Stretched over an entire season, his pace would be expected to be around 10g/9a...but that’s assuming that, at 32, he’s not going to drop off a bit.

de Leeuw would probably fit into United’s attack quite well, given that he’s played multiple positions and would be coming over from a Chicago team that may be MLS’s least positionally rigid when it comes to attacking players. Again, though, I’d look at de Leeuw only as a back-up plan in case Asad isn’t coming back, and only if he’d be willing to accept a hefty (think 40% or more) pay cut.

Tommy McNamara

Position: Left wing/attacking midfield, also can play the #8
Former club: New York City FC
2018 salary: $200,00 base/guaranteed

Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this before from me. I’m not going to advocate as strongly for McNamara as I have in the past, but I think he’s a more plausible Asad replacement than de Leeuw. He wouldn’t take up an international roster spot, he’s in his prime (he turns 28 before next season kicks off), and he plays Asad’s spot as a left winger who drifts inside to combine.

McNamara is available because Domè Torrent simply did not rate him at all, but Torrent doesn’t appear to be a particularly savvy coach. Normally if you see a player at his age turn in a 0g/0a season and under 500 minutes played without a major injury, you should be wary, but I think the NYCFC boss is a mitigating factor here.

What actually lowered my devotion to this cause was McNamara’s 2017, where he simply never really got on track despite making 27 appearances on a good team. 3 goals and 2 assists in an attacking role on a team that produced a respectable goal total is not the best sign, and I don’t really have a solid explanation for it. He just wasn’t playing well, and a Gold Cup call-up didn’t spark him to life.

That’s a contrast to 2016, where he put up solid numbers (5g/9a) and really looked the part for NYCFC. His playing style fits into how United plays nowadays, and his versatility could be useful this summer. That said, like de Leeuw I’d consider United choosing him as a hedge against losing Asad, which is to say I’d consider it an attempt to deal with some bad news rather than simply accepting the bad news. Personally, I’d rather just avoid the bad news.

Lawrence Olum

Position: Defensive midfield/center back
Former club: Portland Timbers FC
2018 salary: $185,004 base, $200,004 guaranteed

Olum is 34, so you can guess where this is going. I’d see him as stopgap depth at two positions, either as a center back who is more comfortable on the ball than Frederic Brillant, or as a defensive midfielder who is better in the air than the options United currently has. Olum, who has made 47 appearances as a substitute over the years, has never really had a problem doing the job as a late-game option to protect a lead, something Ben Olsen began toying with more often this past season.

More importantly, we’re looking at a summer where a) Chris Durkin is probably gone for a few weeks in late spring, b) Russell Canouse is possibly gone for three weeks in the early summer for the Gold Cup (don’t screw this up Gregg!), and c) Junior Moreno will be called in by Venezuela during every FIFA window. Olum might not rack up more than 15 total appearances, but there’s a period of time where we’d probably be happy to have a steady veteran presence stepping in.

Now, if United ends up retaining Jared Jeffrey, or if they have their eye on a young player who can play at the MLS level while also being content with spending two-thirds of the season with Loudoun United, I’d counsel against signing a guy in his mid-30s. Those are fairly big “ifs” though, and it’s good to have options. Signing Olum wouldn’t be a thrilling move, but facing multiple games short of true defensive midfielders is a sneakily important thing to address.

Or, you know, United could take up one of my pet pipe dreams and see if Jalen Robinson can adapt to the position.

Tosaint Ricketts

Position: Striker
Former club: Toronto FC
2018 salary: $190,008 base, $203,175 guaranteed

Now we’re getting into players who are more than a “break in case of emergency” sort of pick-up. Ricketts has largely been a substitute option for TFC when they need to be more blunt about what they’re up to, which is exactly the role Darren Mattocks had for United in the back half of last season. Ricketts isn’t exactly the same player — he is nowhere near as good in the air, and he probably creates fewer looks for himself on the dribble — but we’re talking about a player who can capably fill that role for United at around $150-175k next season.

There are issues, of course. Ricketts is 31, and he’d require an international spot. On the other hand, he’s a savvy, fast striker who forces defenses to drop off with his ability to run the channels and create danger. That’s a change-up United simply doesn’t have right now, and being able to add speed is vital for an attack built around two slower players in Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta.

The data backs up a case for Ricketts. He’s got 13 goals in 3 MLS seasons, but due to the presence of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, he’s only amassed 2,004 regular season minutes in that time. 13 goals in 2,004 minutes is a 0.58 goals per 90 minutes played rate, which is very good (particularly when you imagine that most of his minutes will come with Rooney and Acosta feeding him). That’s a consistent rate, too; there’s no outlier season boosting his numbers. He bagged 3 goals in 399 minutes in 2016, 3 in 601 this year, and 7 in 1,003 in 2017.

I’m not entirely convinced that Ricketts will still be available when United gets their shot, but Ricketts would simplify Dave Kasper’s life by removing something from near the top of his to-do list.

Luis Silva

Position: Withdrawn forward/attacking midfield
Former club: Real Salt Lake
2018 salary: $225,000 base, $233,667 guaranteed

We’d be turning back the clock here, but there is an argument for having a player who is sort of like Rooney available. Silva could step into Rooney’s current false 9 role without needing major alterations to the system. Yes, he’s nowhere near Rooney’s level as a player, but he’s still a solid and effective MLS attacker. The 30 year old’s goals per 90 rate over the last two seasons with RSL is 0.41, and that’s with a lower quality (and less stable) group around him than Ricketts had.

Our longtime readers know I lean towards having a diverse portfolio of forwards rather than a bunch of guys who can all do the same thing. However, adding Silva means the option of resting Rooney here and there, or resting Acosta and dropping Rooney in underneath, are both pretty straightforward options. That makes game-planning far easier, and there will also be games where United doesn’t necessarily need to change their attacking style so much. Moving Rooney to the #8, bringing in Silva, and not changing anything else could still be the right call for a given game (as opposed to needing to become more direct to feed a more traditional target man or poacher).

If United could get Silva for something in the $150-175k range, and then add another more direct option to their squad for a similar price (someone like, I don’t know, Tosaint Ricketts), I think they’d be overall better off than they were last year, where the drop from Mattocks to Dane Kelly was stark and the diversity of the forwards as a group was a bit lower. I think Ricketts makes more sense than Silva, but I wouldn’t have to write a mopey “I don’t know what they’re doing here” piece if Silva made his DCU return.