A year ago, as the secondary transfer window wrapped up, D.C. United went out with a bang. Bringing in Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, Zoltan Stieber, and Bruno Miranda on one day didn’t save a bad season, but it did give the Black-and-Red a little jolt for the month of August while adding three potential starters and three players who were under the age of 24 at the time.
In this year’s summer window, United went big early, finalizing the deal to bring Wayne Rooney to the nation’s capital before the window was even open. But to hear Rooney at his introductory press conference, which happened just about a month ago on July 2nd, the striker seemed to think his acquisition was part of a bigger plan for United.
“I’m sure more players are going to come in,” Rooney said that day. “In order for the club to move forward, we will need to bring a few more players in.”
And that sentiment has been echoed by General Manager Dave Kasper and Head Coach Ben Olsen this past month. But with just a week remaining in the window, there hasn’t been much in the way of news of any incoming players, despite a couple of obvious positions that could use some strengthening.
“[We’re] still looking to get better, to bolster the group,” Olsen told reporters after practice on Tuesday.
And yet, Olsen then offered up solutions that might already exist within the team to get the squad through the rest of the season. A big issue for United this year has been defense, and in particular, the outside back positions. Taylor Kemp and Nick DeLeon were meant to occupy the left and right back spots, but Kemp is out for the season, and DeLeon recently had surgery on a knee injury. Olsen has been coy about when he might return.
Joseph Mora and Oniel Fisher were brought in to help provide depth at those positions, but have ended up starting for a majority of the season. There have been good moments from both, but both have also been culpable for some of the issues United has had defending their goal this year.
Yesterday, when Olsen was asked, he pointed out that the outside backs were still the area in which the team needed the most help. But then, he offered up a couple of other solutions which might help the team at those positions.
“We have players within that we can be creative with,” Olsen said of possible help at left and right back. “Whether it’s Jalen [Robinson] or Russell [Canouse] or Paul [Arriola].”
Robinson is a natural center back, but has found minutes tough to come by this season since signing as a homegrown player back in 2014. He has two starts this season, in which he played right back against the New England Revolution and the Galaxy. If United don’t bring in anyone else this window, he would seem to be a prime candidate to get a couple of starts down the stretch, with United’s busy schedule.
Arriola has seen some time as a wing back before, which makes his inclusion in this list from Olsen understandable. However, Arriola has already changed positions this year, from his useful wide point in midfield to being a number 8 in United’s 4-1-4-1. That’s been beneficial to both parties, as Arriola’s production sky rocketed, while United started to score more and more goals.
In 2017, Arriola had a goal and two assists in 922 minutes, good for one per 307 minutes. This year he has four goals and seven assists in 1153 minutes, which equates to a goal or an assist every 104 minutes. So Olsen might be willing to slide Arriola back, but only in a pinch.
Canouse’s mention in this list is probably the most surprising. Canouse has made his name as a bulldog of a defensive midfielder, though in last weekend’s game against the Colorado Rapids, he was used as a number 8, with Junior Moreno behind him, filling in for Arriola. But with everyone healthy in midfield, there are too many players that would be left out, and Olsen might be thinking that he was to get Canouse on the field, no matter where that might be.
“There’s creative ways to solve some of this stuff,” added Olsen. “So we’ll see how the next week goes.”
All that said, there’s still plenty of time for United to make moves. Last July, Miranda was the only player on the radar until the final couple of days of the window, when Arriola, Canouse, and Stieber were brought in and announced just hours before the deadline, along with the Bolivian attacker.
United’s only other transaction this window was trading Patrick Mullins to the Columbus Crew in exchange for $150,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. That move seemed obvious once the news of Rooney started to seep out, as the form of Darren Mattocks made Mullins the odd man out.
However, after practice on Tuesday, Kasper and Mattocks spoke for about 15 minutes on the training field. Kasper usually attends practice, but there’s often not much interaction between him and the players out there. So a chat with Mattocks, who has shown signs of frustration on the field that seem to be related to the reduction of his role in the team with Rooney in tow, might just be to clear the air.
In last year’s late flurry though, Sebastien Le Toux similarly talked to Kasper after a practice. There were discussions that United were looking to move Le Toux to open up room on their roster for the influx of new players, but they instead released him, as Le Toux eventually retired from playing. So there’s a chance that any conversation between Mattocks and Kasper could have been focused on a move.
Mattocks has had his best statistically season this year, even with not scoring a goal for nearly a month. His previous high for goals came back in 2012, when he scored 7 in his rookie campaign. Earlier this season, Mattocks scored a goal in four consecutive games, and notched his career high 8th goal in a 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy on July 4th.
Whatever might happen before the close of the transfer window on August 8th, United remain at the bottom of the table in Eastern Conference, looking up a steep hill to get into the playoffs this year. With 16 games left, United have to make up 11 points to get to at least the 6th spot. Whether or not that’s a hill they can climb might depend on what they can manage over the next week.