Facing a potential injury crisis at fullback for the second time in 2018, D.C. United could be about to make a move to address the issue. The Washington Post’s Steve Goff says the Black-and-Red are considering signing free agent Kevin Ellis, 27. Ellis has been without a club for just under a month after being waived by the Chicago Fire.
As the move would be for a free agent, the closure of FIFA’s transfer window weeks ago is irrelevant. United would simply have to complete a deal before the 2018 MLS roster freeze on September 14.
Update 9/7/2018, 5:45pm: United has confirmed that Ellis has signed with the club. “Kevin is a versatile defender who can play anywhere along the back line,” said GM Dave Kasper in a team press release. “This is an important depth move for us, and we are pleased to be adding an experienced MLS player in the prime of his career.”
Ellis is originally a product of Sporting Kansas City’s academy, signed a homegrown contract with the Sporks in 2011. It took him until 2013 to make his MLS debut, but between the 2014-2016 seasons, he made 61 appearances (52 starts) for Peter Vermes. However, his playing time tailed off in 2016, and in 2017 he appeared just 5 times before being released.
Chicago picked him up as depth, and by the start of the 2018 season he had emerged as Veljko Paunovic’s first-choice right back. Ellis started 19 games and appeared as a sub in one more before being waived in early August, a confusing choice by a team who had no real successor lined up.
Ellis, despite being listed at 5’9” and 160 lbs, has made more of his career appearances as a center back than at right back. However, most of that imbalance came in his early days in KC, and over time he became more and more of a right back who could play center back rather than the other way around. Chicago used Ellis exclusively at right back or right wingback during his half-season there.
Despite his size, Ellis has scored 7 career regular season goals thanks in part to having very strong leaping ability to go with a total fearlessness in the box. At right back for the Fire, he posted 4 assists in 20 appearances, boosting his career total to 9. Ellis may not be the most technical player, but he’s got good speed and has developed into a decent crosser of the ball on the overlap.
Salary data provided by the MLS Players Union lists Ellis as having had a guaranteed 2018 salary of $158,333 before his waiver. The fact that he cleared waivers opens the door to United signing him to a more modest amount in 2018 before renegotiating based on how he does and whether he wants to stay.
Right back is certainly an area of need for United. Nick DeLeon has resumed training, but his timetable for a return from an unspecified knee injury is still unknown. Oniel Fisher has grown into the job during the summer, but what was initially referred to as a “tight” hamstring may need more time than simply sitting out a half last week against Philadelphia. Paul Arriola performed admirably against Atlanta over the weekend, but is away on USMNT duty at the moment, and will likely be called up again in October.
If Ben Olsen wanted to go further down his roster, he could turn to Jalen Robinson (who has been more comfortable at center back) or Steve Birnbaum (a starter at center back whose past appearances on the right have been down to emergencies). There has been some speculation that Joseph Mora or Vytas could play on the right, but at this point it’s all theoretical. Both of United’s left backs are very left-footed, and neither has any time at the position in MLS.