D.C. United and midfielder Zoltan Stieber have parted ways, with the club announcing a mutual termination of the Hungarian’s contract today. The move will open up an international roster spot and provide United with some salary cap space. Stieber’s departure was first reported by Steve Goff of the Washington Post.
According to salary data provided by the MLS Players Union, Stieber was second only to Wayne Rooney on United’s wage bill, with a guaranteed salary of $787,500 for 2019. The 30-year-old winger had missed three straight games due to illness, and was at this point no better than fifth on the depth chart as an attacking midfielder (and arguably sixth in the recently-used 343). Stieber ended up appearing in fewer than half of United’s games in 2019, playing 301 MLS minutes spread across 9 appearances (3 starts). He was left off of the side’s Open Cup roster in both rounds due to the international spot limit.
Stieber arrived at the end of a wild 2017 summer window for United, and was unveiled the same day as Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, and Bruno Miranda. While those moves didn’t spark some kind of miraculous playoff push during a lost season, in 2018 Stieber ended up being an important factor. Forging a strong connection with Darren Mattocks, Stieber had 4 goals and 7 assists in United’s first 18 games of the year, including 2 assists at the first-ever game at Audi Field.
However, the arrival of Wayne Rooney shifted both United’s style of play and what positions would be relied upon to create chances. With Ben Olsen using Rooney as his chief playmaker, the role of the attacking midfielders underneath him became more about making quick runs into the box than playing the final ball, which was far more suited to Arriola and Yamil Asad’s style of play. Since the start of August 2018, Stieber had 1 goal and 0 assists in 20 appearances (9 starts).
Stieber’s departure opens up some room for United to make much-needed moves, though exactly how much room is unclear. We can say with certainty that the Black-and-Red now have a free international spot and one more open senior roster spot, but beyond that, it’s murky. United will have some salary budget space freed up now that Stieber’s deal isn’t on the books, but this is MLS, and that kind of information is almost never made public.
The natural inclination is to expect United to turn around and re-acquire Asad, who is now a free agent. As we explained previously, that’s an important detail as far as fitting him in within MLS’s various restrictions. However, the club has been linked with Mateo Garcia, another Argentine winger, and probably has a few more irons in the fire that we don’t know about.
There is also the prospect of signing Jose Francisco Torres, who is with the club on trial at the moment. Torres, a former USMNT regular with well over 200 appearances in Liga MX, wouldn’t require an international spot, so the prospect of signing him and Asad/Garcia/someone else seems viable based on what information we have. United GM Dave Kasper has 12 more days to complete moves in this transfer window, so it’s safe to assume the coming days will be busy.