After spending most of the offseason wondering who will play right back, D.C. United appears to be pretty close to set at the position. In an interview on the Pitch Pass podcast, United GM Dave Kasper said that the club has re-signed Oniel Fisher. The 27-year-old Jamaican suffered a season-ending knee injury in late September last year, but did enough in his first season in the District to earn a new deal.
“I don’t know that we’ve announced it yet... We’ve re-signed Oniel. Of course we’re tracking him, we know where he’s at [in his recovery], and we hope to see him back on his field in late summer,” said Kasper in response to a question from host Greg Roche.
After coming over from the Seattle Sounders in exchange for $50,000 in General Allocation Money, Fisher posted career highs in appearances (24), starts (20), and minutes (1,832). He scored his first career MLS goal and added an assist, and his form clearly improved as the season wore on. The fact that Fisher has quite a few starts at left back (particularly with Seattle, where he often had to fill in during Concacaf Champions League and U.S. Open Cup games) adds to the appeal.
Fisher’s injury had previously appeared to complicate matters. On September 29, 2018, Fisher and United goalkeeper Bill Hamid collided while both converging over a loose ball in the box, and Fisher’s knee gave way. The diagnosis was about as bad as fans may have feared: partial tears to 3 different knee ligaments as well as the medial meniscus.
A couple of weeks ago, United was looking quite short at right back, but suddenly they seem comfortable at the position. Fisher’s return is delayed by his recovery, of course, but he’ll hopefully be a factor down the stretch. The Black-and-Red have also been strongly linked to Boca Juniors defender Leonardo Jara, who just yesterday told reporters at the airport in Buenos Aires that he was leaving for MLS:
Leonardo Jara dejó Boca para pasar a la MLS pero afirmó que tendrá revancha en el club argentino. Además, recordó la final de la Copa Libertadores ante River. pic.twitter.com/KWXwPTLa7t— SportsCenter (@SC_ESPN) January 23, 2019
On top of those two, United picked Akeem Ward — a player both Kasper and Ben Olsen said was the top right back coming out of the college player pool this year — at the SuperDraft earlier this month. Earlier today, the Washington Post’s Steve Goff reported that United has offered Ward a first-team contract already, and we may see the Creighton product and Virginia native as a regular in the gameday 18 until Fisher returns to full fitness. Chris Odoi-Atsem, meanwhile, is apparently on track in his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and was present at training on Wednesday.
This news leaves United with 22 players under contract (assuming Ward accepts the offer mentioned above). It is unclear what the details on Fisher’s deal are, but given that MLS rules more or less oblige United to give him a raise that would take him onto the “on-budget” portion of the roster, it’s safe to think of him as taking one of those spots (in 2018, he occupied a supplemental spot).
That would leave 5 on-budget and 3 off-budget spots open, though United could also list Fisher on the injured reserve to start the season if they so choose. David Ousted’s anticipated departure would open up a further spot, leaving plenty of room for the club to make the “three or four” more moves Kasper mentioned to the media at training yesterday.