D.C. United’s transfer window felt uneventful for a long time, only for it to end with what’s becoming a customary flurry of moves. Wayne Rooney confirmed his departure at the end of the season, while General Manager Dave Kasper finalized a multi-million dollar deal for Ola Kamara and then added MLS veterans Felipe and Emmanuel Boateng via trade.
We had the opportunity to have a lengthy chat with Kasper shortly after the transfer window finally closed, allowing him to explain what went into the various moves in his own words.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Black and Red United: I’ll start with Wayne Rooney straight away. In the past, the biggest international stars linked with MLS have very often leaned towards Los Angeles or New York. Rooney made it very clear that he really preferred D.C. as a city over places like that. How much does his coming here change the dynamic when approaching that class of player in the future?
Dave Kasper: That’s a good question. We’ve definitely seen that we have more interest from UK-based players, playing in the Premier League. More than in the past, there’s been agents reaching out for players that want to come here. I think a lot of that can be attributed to Wayne. Certainly, having had Wayne here, that will be a resource to us in terms of other players that may want to follow. We can say ‘Yeah, Wayne Rooney came here, he was a big part of launching our new stadium, he enjoyed his time here.’ I think that will give us an upper hand with some of the players that may not have wanted to come anywhere else but LA and New York.
B&RU: Speaking of Audi Field, how much does having a new stadium and having a new training ground coming soon impact those talks?
DK: It does, it does. Players that we recruit, they go online and research what the club is all about. That’s one of the first questions: ‘I see you’re building a new training facility, when’s that gonna be done?’ That excites players. So that’s definitely gonna be another great selling point in terms of attracting players to D.C. United.
B&RU: The release from the team concerning Rooney’s departure notes that he will become an ambassador for United. Is that role well-defined at this point, or is that something your side and his side will tackle in the coming months?
DK: When we signed him, we had discussed that whenever the day came that Wayne would no longer play for the club, that we’d want him to become an ambassador for the club. It’s loosely defined at the moment, but it’s something in the coming months here that we’ll sharpen up our pencil and come with some ways to incorporate Wayne as an ambassador for the club.
B&RU: One of the major issues surrounding Rooney’s departure is that United did not recoup a transfer fee. What factors into that decision from D.C.’s side of things?
DK: It’s pretty simple. Wayne came as a free agent, and he’s going to leave as a free agent. It’s pretty simple.
B&RU: With Rooney’s salary coming off your budget in the near future, you probably have more financial freedom to work with. Does that change the team’s position when negotiating with Acosta?
B&RU: Rooney was far from the only transfer window story with the club. How far back does United’s interest in acquiring Ola Kamara go?
DK: That’s a good question. We made a play to get Ola here when Columbus and LA did the trade, (Gyasi) Zardes for Kamara. We were working very hard with Columbus to try to get Ola to D.C. United at that time.
B&RU: Obviously it didn’t happen at that time, but he’s here now. How recently did the possibility of bringing him in during this window come about?
DK: Right around the same time that Wayne told us he wanted to go back to England.
B&RU: It’s easy in some cases to figure out where a player is at in terms of fitness and form. Finding data on the Chinese league is more difficult, but we know that Kamara didn’t get that many games in during this season. What do you know about his time playing there, and where he’s at mentally and physically?
DK: Well, he was also playing internationally for Norway in their Euro qualifiers. We did not put a lot of stock in what happened in China. He was only there for 5-6 months. We know that when we get an international player coming in, it’s takes time for them to adapt. It’s not gonna happen right away. It may happen three months before a player clicks, or six months, nine months, a year. It depends on the player. He was only there 5-6 months, in a completely new culture, completely new league. So we did not put a lot of stock into his performances in China. We knew he was still playing for the national team, which is always a very good sign.
Look, he’s at a very good age, a proven goalscorer in Major League Soccer scoring just about one goal every two games. So that’s what we went off of.
B&RU: Looking back at Kamara’s time with the Galaxy, he was signed to be a striker there, but then they brought in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Kamara shifted out to the wing, but still scored plenty of goals. I know it’s very early, and there’s a lot of things to figure out about how he fits into the group, but was the possibility that he could play wide while Rooney is still here taken into account?
DK: Yes, we thought that was a possibility. The signing will give [Ben Olsen] flexibility from opponent to opponent in terms of how he lines up. It gives him more tools to work with. We do know that Ola has played wide and can do the job there. Certainly that will be a plus if Benny wants to play him out there.
B&RU: Thinking back over the past few years, United has made this move for Kamara, put up the money to pay Rooney’s salary, signed Arriola with a multi-million dollar transfer fee, and put up seven figures to make Luciano Acosta’s move permanent. Is it fair to see that price range as the new standard for D.C. United?
DK: The opening of Audi Field has given us a lot more resources to work with on the player side. From the team’s standpoint, the answer is yes. We’re in a different position than we were two, three, four years ago. But I think the league as a whole, we’re seeing a bigger investment in players, and I think that will continue to grow. For teams to maintain their status in the league, they’ll have to spend more on players.
B&RU: There are reports that that Kamara’s deal could change over time, depending on the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement. How much more difficult does a potentially different CBA make your job when planning for the future?
DK: I can only speak to where we are at today. We obviously need to see where the CBA lands. Certainly, we signed Ola using TAM. That’s for the life of his agreement.
B&RU: On the release announcing his transfer, Kamara is listed as an international. Our understanding was that Kamara had a green card before he left MLS. Is that a situation that can change quickly, or is it more nebulous at this point?
DK: No, he forfeited his green card [when he moved to China].
B&RU: So does that start the process of getting one over, or is that something that can change quickly?
DK: No, it doesn’t change quickly. He would have to start all over.
B&RU: What is Kamara’s fitness level right now? How quickly do you think he can begin playing from the start of games?
DK: Keep in mind, he has been in-season. Whereas with a lot of the European players that come over, they’re coming off their break. They finish playing in May or June. With Ola, while his last game may have been in the middle of June, but he’s been training on a regular basis. We think he’ll catch up very quickly. After seeing him doing workouts, after seeing where he’s at, he’s a fit guy, he doesn’t have a lot of body fat. He will adapt very quickly fitness-wise.
B&RU: Loudoun United opening Segra Field right after the transfer window closed. Did having that on your plate as well make things more difficult?
DK: The heavy lift was more so when we were signing players. I’ve been actively involved in trying to facilitate connections with local youth soccer clubs, trying to help on the business side. I’ve done some things with them, but certainly Adam Behnke’s (Loudoun’s Chief Operating Officer) done a tremendous job in getting that thing off the ground and getting the stadium built. Stewart Mairs (recently promoted by D.C. United to Technical Director) has been a great resource to help with player/personnel matters that we have with Loudoun United.
B&RU: Moving on to Felipe, you’ve probably heard from fans that he’s not very well-liked due to some incidents with the Impact and his time with the Red Bulls. Did that history factor into this deal at all, or is it something you put to the side?
DK: Well, look. None of us liked Felipe, including me. But I think we’re gonna love him now, because he’s on our side. The kind of guy you hate to play against, but you love on your team, because he’s a tough-as-nails competitor, he’s a good soccer player, he can connect passes. He’s a winner, and those guys are not easy to find in the league. You know, things were different 5-10 years ago, when there were 10, 12, 14 teams in the league. Now there are 20-plus teams in the league, so there’s more competition for talent. We can’t always be always extremely and overly selective about who comes in. I can tell you, his character, his professionalism, his age, his toughness, his experience was very attractive to us. He can play with all of our other holding mids, because he has some different qualities. It’s gonna give Ben more tactical flexibility on how we may face various opponents, how he may want to play tactically.
B&RU: You mentioned that the market has changed with so many more teams in the league, and there are so many more ways teams can make acquisitions now with TAM, discretionary TAM, etc. It was no secret that United needed help at defensive midfield in the short term because of the injuries. Did all of that make it easier to make this deal, because teams knew you were looking, or harder because everyone’s in the market at the same time?
DK: Well, we got Felipe on our books on a [senior] minimum salary this year, so I think we struck a pretty good deal. It was towards the end of the window when the deal happened. I think Felipe wanted to leave, I think Vancouver was looking to move him. The timing was right for us. It did not impact us specifically in that deal, [Vancouver] knowing that we’re short on players at a position. Obviously they wouldn’t have let him go at a minimum salary [otherwise].
B&RU: United’s attack has a lot of very technical players, but it’s no secret that there’s not a lot of high-end speed there. Emmanuel Boateng is known for having just that kind of pace. How much does that open things up for United going forward?
DK: Good question. Speed was a big quality that we were looking to add in this summer window. It will help us stretch the other team’s defense, it’ll open up the game for other players.
B&RU: Speed is such a rare commodity around the league, around every league really. Was there a lot of competition to land Boateng?
DK: Certainly that’s what they told me. I’d been talking to LA over six weeks about getting the player. At first, they were not gonna move him. And then things changed, I wanna say, about a week ago they became more open to it.
Ema has domestic status, and his number is very cap-friendly. There were a lot of suitors. There are always a lot of suitors looking for a deal like that.
B&RU: Obviously bringing in guys that are already in MLS, they don’t have to make the adjustment to the league. They get what’s going to go into playing here. How much more attractive does that make players like that as opposed to going to the international market for a similar profile of player?
DK: We were focused on, in this transfer window, getting MLS-experienced players versus getting players the international route. We did look at international players, but listen: there are 10 games to go. By the time you get an international player in this window, and he gets his work visa approved, and he gets moved here, and he gets fit and acclimated, we’re looking at maybe 6 games to go. And then he’s gotta find his way to the lineup. So we really factored that into this window. Especially this year with the condensed schedule, the last regular season game is in the first week of October. There’s not a lot of time to ramp up your team after this window, so that definitely factored in.
January windows are a different kettle of fish, where we can look for MLS players as well as international players. But we’ve found that a lot of the international players that we get, when we bring them in in January, when they get a full preseason to be with our group, their acclimation is definitely smoother.
B&RU: One last question: It seems like every year, there’s a trade between D.C. United and the Portland Timbers for an international roster spot. How does that happen? Is it just a good connection with Gavin Wilkinson?
DK: (laughs) We have a good connection, a good relationship. We’re in different conferences, so the pressure of always doing a trade in-conference is not there. It just so happens that he has international roster spots available when I need them, and when he’s needed them, I have them available. I guess it’s just a coincidence.