Major League Soccer's offseason just started this week, but the major moves are already happening. For D.C. United - already the most active team thus far, and still facing some major decisions - the next opportunity to add a new face is the Re-Entry Draft, which starts today at 3pm. Stage One, in case you don't remember, is the round in which teams are agreeing to take on a player's existing contract (which will include a CBA-mandated raise). Stage Two will take place on December 17th.
Generally speaking, the first round has been far less active. Last year, for example, stage one saw just three players selected (compared to eight in stage two). The fact that teams have to take on a contract that some other team decided was too expensive explains the situation. Still, that doesn't mean that there will be no players worth a look here. Some teams are having to decline options not because the player would be overpaid but because the salary cap leaves them no choice. It's a chance for a team like United to add a proven MLS player without having to give anything up, and it's something they leaned heavily on in 2013. Between stage one and two of that RED, they acquired Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, and Fabian Espindola.
Will they take anyone today? There's a chance, though it's more likely that next Thursday's second stage is where United makes a move. However, that's not to say there are no players worth strong consideration this afternoon. Here are a few we like the looks of:
Former club: Seattle Sounders
Position: Wide midfield
2015 salary: $75,000 (base and guaranteed)
Let's start with something that we don't know for sure but is almost certainly true: Pappa's option is probably for a whole lot more than $75,000. This salary figure explains how the Sounders were able to fit him in, but it's not a price tag that he'd except over the long haul. Anyone taking him is probably picking up an option safely over $200,000.
However, the Guatemalan is worth that kind of money. He's a scheme-breaking, inventive player from both flanks that would improve United's attack no matter if he's used on the left or right. Since coming back to MLS from Dutch side SC Heerenveen, Pappa has 9 goals and 11 assists over the past 2 seasons (49 appearances, 41 starts). His reputation for not defending is a bit unfair; while no one's going to confuse him with Conor Doyle in that department, his attacking quality is worth rolling the dice. Even in road games where United may approach the game with more caution, Pappa could be a game-changing second half sub.
United will be able to find out his 2016 option before selecting him, and unless it's cost-prohibitive I think it would be a very smart move. Everyone knows United was not inventive enough going forward, and adding Pappa would mean Chris Rolfe could be used as a nearly full-time forward. He might not fall to United, who have the 13th pick, but if he does he makes a ton of sense.
Former club: Philadelphia Union
Position: Defensive midfield/right back
2015 salary: $108,500 (base), $119,000 (guaranteed
Creavalle is not a name that will make a ton of headlines, but stage one only rarely involves big names and definite starters. The idea here is to add good depth, and Creavalle would do that. The former Dynamo, TFC, and Union player made 78 appearances in three and a half seasons with Houston and Toronto, but upon being traded to Philly in August he was reduced to a less prominent role (166 minutes spread over 5 appearances).
Part of the issue for Creavalle was simply one of fitting into the scheme in Philly. The Union wanted a more stationary defensive midfielder to partner with Vincent Nogueira to allow the Frenchman freedom to roam, and Creavalle is more of a mobile destroyer. With one of Perry Kitchen or Markus Halsti strongly rumored to be leaving this offseason, United needs to add someone in the engine room. Creavalle would be a better fit into United's style than Jared Jeffrey currently is, and the fact that he can fill in at right back helps given that Chris Korb is still likely months away from playing after tearing his ACL.
United, as we've said, needs to be faster. Attacking speed is particularly important, but Creavalle's overall athleticism might help out (particularly if Kitchen leaves and the less mobile Halsti is in line to be first choice). Davy Arnaud's concussion left United short in terms of covering the ground they need to when outnumbered in central midfield. Creavalle probably shouldn't be a starter if United is aiming to build on the past two seasons, but he would improve the team's depth in spots that need it.
Former club: Chicago Fire
2015 salary: $90,000 (base), $131,000 (guaranteed)
Johnson has 3 caps for Jamaica and a US green card, so he doesn't count as an international. A product of Virginia Commonwealth, Johnson was picked 13th overall in the 2013 SuperDraft as part of that year's Generation Adidas class. Johnson is not all that young, but he's fast and physically capable of playing both as a winger or up front. He would not be a starter for United, and I'm not sure he'd be ahead of Miguel Aguilar as a wide player, but United needs speed. With Jairo Arrieta off the roster, United could do a lot worse than to bring in a player with very different attributes to any current striker on the roster.
That's not to say that Johnson is a perfect fit. He still looks a bit raw as a player at 25, which is a worry (though on some level you can't help but wonder if that has to do with the Dynamo's underwhelming attempt to develop him). There are probably better options out there, especially at a price tag that is over six figures. However, as of the time of his trade to Houston he was still a GA player, which means he'd be free in terms of the salary cap. The fact that he's available here probably means he will no longer have that GA protection for 2016, but if he hasn't "graduated" he could be a useful player for United.
The full list of re-entry draft players available is here. Who do you think United should pursue? Or would you prefer that they keep their powder dry and wait for next week?