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Looking at D.C. United’s roster going into the offseason

We don’t know everything, but we can try to work with what we’ve got

Inter Miami CF v DC United Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It appears that 2020 was the last time that we did a deep dive on the roster and the prospects D.C. United has. Ryan suggested at the time that D.C. United was going to nibble around the edges roster-wise, with the understanding they’d have to nail their coaching hire, and well, that was sort of right? A week after that posted, one homegrown (Jacob Greene) got signed, and another one (Jeremy Garay) was signed midway through the next year. As for the coach? Well, it’d would be easy and comical to dismiss it, but it permeates a good deal of what’s happened and what will happen, so expect it to get touched on.

Before diving in, a couple of disclaimers which will (or may) look familiar. First, a portion of what follows is based on what has been previously reported in articles, press releases etc; even with those things, there may be discrepancies. Some contract information isn’t necessarily (or literally) known by anyone other than one or two people. This is due to a couple of things, partly due to general MLS secrecy, and D.C.’s proclivity to keeping things under the vest when it comes to contract terms. The last salary numbers are from April of this year, and CBA’s include mechanisms on initial player contracts, how many option years, etc.

So what did D.C. do last offseason?

Well, some well-intented moves at that time; Gaoussou Samaké was signed from Loudoun United to a first-team deal, as was Ted Ku-DiPietro just after the new year. After a solid loan year, Brendan Hines-Ike was purchased, and Hayden Sargis was purchased from Sacramento Republic FC. Taxi Fountas was signed on a pre-contract, while Brad Smith was acquired by the Seattle Sounders.

Wait, why was Smith acquired? This gets to the outgoing side of things; Kevin Paredes was sold to Wolfsburg for more than $7 million; along with that, Paul Arriola was traded to FC Dallas two days prior, while Fredric Brillant retired, and Chris Seitz, Junior Moreno, Yordy Reyna, Yamil Asad and Joseph Mora had their options declined, the latter of whom was selected by Charlotte FC in the expansion draft, while Felipe’s contract was not extended.

So in sum, D.C. brought on guys with longer development arcs, while guys who, in a vacuum last year, took a good number of minutes; six of those mentioned above played at least 1,000 minutes with D.C. last season while another (Reyna) was 60 minutes shy of same. The Paredes move could be seen as one too good to pass up, while a number of the others could be seen as Hernan Losada’s impact on the dressing room and/or front office and whom to bring in, given he came in late and had to work with what was in front of him in 2021, some of the inbound acquisitions could be seen as an eye towards 2022, such as Hines-Ike, Sargis and Samaké (the latter two based solely on exposure bias at Loudoun). A lot of here and now contributors out, with those coming in not ready, immediately, to get going.

Then, well, it shouldn’t be said what happened next heading into 2020, right? Right. So...

With all this in mind, we believe that D.C. United has decisions to make on the following players this offseason:

  • Bill Hamid
  • Brad Smith
  • Ola Kamara
  • Chris Odoi-Atsem
  • Adrien Perez
  • David Ochoa
  • Miguel Berry
  • Donovan Pines
  • Sofiane Djeffal
  • Sami Guediri
  • Kimarni Smith
  • Drew Skundrich
  • Tony Alfaro
  • Jon Kempin

Ryan: So of these names, I’m fairly certain from Berry downwards that list have contracts with options, but more on them in a second.

The first four, possibly five, are contracts that count towards MLS’ salary budget, and Hamid and Kamara comprise almost half of it in a vacuum, with $2.2 million total compared to a budget of $4.9 million. Hamid and Kamara were players whose contracts occupied Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), which teams get $2.8 million of and can use for salary and acquisition, and both players did require transfer fees to move; combine that with TAM salaries already being paid to Nigel Robertha, Steve Birnbaum, Martin Rodriguez and Ravel Morrison, well, it adds up! So I think between relative health, salary, roster status (Kamara’s salary includes an international roster spot), those are quicker decisions to make. Provided David Ochoa re-signs (which I’d presume he does), he fills Hamid’s senior roster spot on the next contract, albeit at a much lower cost.

Marc: Golazos aside, still not sure what Morrison’s purpose within the team is. Given that he’s Rooney’s guy, I assumed he was brought in to a) ease the integration of Rooney’s ideas and b) fill a specific role within the system. Instead, he’s served more as a utility player (a poor man’s Nick DeLeon, if you will) having spent time on the right, in central midfield and even up top. Don’t get me wrong – such players certainly have roles within teams. But those players should not be making $850,000 a year, especially at a club like D.C. United that has been hamstrung by back-loaded contracts. When you consider that Morrison was making three times less at Derby County, the move becomes even more of a head-scratcher.

Ultimately, I’m sure that Rooney will find a role for him in central midfield, one in which he’s free to roam in search of the ball. However, if that requires dropping Victor Pálsson, who the club signed to a DP contract in July in order to add “much needed... quality to the middle of the park,” to the backline full-time, serious questions must be asked of the powers that be.

Ryan: On Brad Smith, he makes just below the senior maximum budget charge at $550,000 and is also occupying an international spot, though perhaps the team attempts to renegotiate to a more agreeable cap number, since they won’t see him until the summer while he rehabs his ACL. Odoi-Atsem has a presumably modest contract option of less than $175,000 and may be a no-brainer, particularly if Andy Najar’s injuries have returned.

Marc: Want it to be known that I am just about the biggest COA stan. Health concerns followed by a cascade of injuries have limited him to a mere 2,618 minutes across six seasons in MLS, but he’s one of the league’s best fullbacks when it comes to one-on-one defending and a threat going forward with his pace.

That said, I have questions about his fit within Rooney’s system. He lacks what Najar and, to a lesser extent, Guediri offer on the ball, a concern that has been amplified since Rooney began asking his fullbacks to remain deeper in the buildup.

That pass that Guediri uses to find Berry, running in behind CF Montreal’s backline, is key to Rooney’s vision, yet one that COA likely would not hit.

I suspect fullback will be an area of focus this winter.

Ryan: On the options, I think a number of those guys stay because in part, they are younger and do not cross the threshold when they count towards the cap, but part of this has Loudoun in play; the impending signing of Luis Zamudio I think pushes Kempin out the door, while the development of Matai Akinmboni may keep Pines around for his option. Guediri and Alfaro are in essence the same player, though you lose size for a nice left foot in one or the other, so you can reclaim the spot that counts to the cap by letting Alfaro go. Kimarni Smith and Skundrich play utility roles of a sort, and the former will presumably have a green card by the start of next season, helping D.C. further.

Marc: Man, what happened to Pines? He’s 24 – no longer young by soccer standards – and has about 5,000 minutes in MLS, yet he’s arguably a worse center back than the one who debuted in 2019. Rooney’s commitment to building out of the back has accentuated Pines’s awkwardness on the ball, which remains an area of weakness:

While I expect the club to retain Pines for 2023 given that he fills a need for center back depth, I’d be concerned if he starts more than 10 games.

Ryan: I think COA, Berry, Pines, Djeffal, Guediri, Kimarni Smith and Skundrich return. If you want to bring in guys of impact, retaining a lot of those who don’t technically cost anything aside from a stray international spot, and who can be ready to come off the bench for the higher caliber ones may be the way they go, particularly given Rooney’s appreciation for young talent.

Marc: No arguments.

So, what is D.C. United left with?

Ryan: Assuming Ochoa re-signs, you’re probably looking at 16 senior roster players (teams can carry between 18 and 20), and I think 26 to 27 total roster players (teams can carry up to 30). The latter sounds like a lot, but when they are first choice players who should make an impact on the roster, there is a little more play involved. If the team can push to get green cards for Kimarni, Robertha and Samaké, that only makes their target list wider.

The other note is that at this point we don’t know what the expansion process will be for St. Louis yet; if there is a draft and if so, if D.C. shouldn’t have to worry about it, since Mora was selected last year.

So let’s say you’re right. Where do they go, and what will they do?

I don’t know, what are you asking us for? We’re just bloggers, Mom’s basement, remember?

Ryan: All kidding aside, but there’s a big, semi-bearded elephant in the room that makes this slightly unknowable. I like Wayne Rooney, and I’d hope he starts to get more headlines for coaching success than whatever he gets for writing about current Manchester United players in this periodic column he gets to write, or the World Cup coverage he’s able to participate in. He and Pete Shuttleworth now get to go to games (well, mostly Pete probably because Wazza showing up in Argentina would be a potential remake of Lineker visiting Maradona in a gesture this organization may not be braced on the optics for). It would be my hope they continue to look at cultivate the kids; Gavin Turner, Tyler Freeman, Zamudio, Greene and Garay could and should all be part of an impressive crop next to Fletcher, Akinmboni, Ku-DiPietro, et al. If they want to go from standing to running, as Marc alluded to, healthy outside backs are going to need to be a biggie.

So yeah, they can look a little more towards the international market, or even grab an American playing elsewhere for a bit of a punch; if you take a look at Dave Kasper’s proclivity to signing players who were once at D.C. United (see Hamid and Chris Durkin), or even are sons of former D.C. players (John Harkes’ son Ian), but there is a guy who currently:

  • Plays in Argentina as a #10,
  • Whose contract expires in December, and
  • Plays in the same city that D.C. Scouting Director Sean Howe was recently spotted in, and
  • was born in America, so he does not require an international spot and
  • is the son of a former D.C. player.

So from both needs and narrative, then Alan Sonora may tie the room together to some degree, but there are certainly other pieces to land, for a team that’s hopefully learned their lesson about not planning for a contingency until it’s too late.

If other players leave that are not in the aforementioned list, then it’s truly a sea change of ‘what Wayne wants, Wayne will really get,’ but until then, let’s all be from Missouri on this. More importantly than that, I’d strongly recommend putting yourself in the mindset of what the next manager will get to work with, because while the current one has the benefit of sympathy of the fans towards ownership, he’s already served a third of his contract out.

Kasper and Lucy Rushton should not only be examining who will play for D.C. United in 2023 but they should be well on the way to identifying who will lead them in 2024 and beyond, as what’s left of the team’s fans will not want to get burned again.