Over the weekend, D.C. United announced an unusually large group of trialists. Normally the Black-and-Red bring in around four or five players at this stage of the preseason. This year, though, there are nine trialists training with United over the next couple of weeks. Throw in United's unsigned draft picks, and you have eleven players battling for a contract offer from a team that only has four open roster spots.
These players don't all have an even chance of making the squad though. Some play positions that appear to be comfortably staffed; others simply do not have the sort of playing background that would indicate that they are ready for MLS. Still others will see their odds decreased by the fact that they would take up an international roster spot. We'll start with the long shots, and move on towards players that have a decent shot at getting a deal.
United's total number of forwards - or at least, players who are a forward more than they are anything else - is down one thanks to Jairo Arrieta's departure. That would explain adding two forwards to the preseason roster, but it has to be said that both Andrea Mancini and Constantine Kolokotronis appear to have the longest odds of being signed by United. Neither player has a resume that inspires confidence.
Both players have a similar background: Lower division soccer in countries that aren't exactly big powers right now (Hungary for Mancini, Greece for Kolokotronis). Both have been free agents for a while, which is unusual for players in their early 20s. Kolokotronis has an edge thanks to his dual Greek-US citizenship, but unless either of these two is the rare sort of player that has somehow gone under-appreciated by multiple clubs and just needs United to show some faith in them, these two are the longest of long shots.
We're going to add United's draft picks into this piece, which means we have to discuss Paul Clowes. If Clowes counted as a domestic player in MLS, he'd actually have a pretty decent chance of making the club. Unfortunately for the Manchester City youth product, he'd take up an international roster spot. A further dent in his chances is the fact that United has two other international defensive midfielders looking for a contract that either have CONCACAF Champions League experience (Ariel Rodriguez) or MLS and national team experience (Kevan George).
Santiago Dittborn is going to run into a similar road block. United already has at least four wide midfielders on the roster (or five, if you have started to think of Conor Doyle as a defensive wide player first and forward second) as well as the option of using Chris Rolfe there. Dittborn's background with Chilean powerhouse Universidad Catolica is promising, but unless Ben Olsen has decided that Nick DeLeon is going to be playing half of his minutes as a central midfielder, it's hard to see where Dittborn fits into the roster without someone else being cut loose.
Paolo Tornaghi is one of the two goalkeepers on trial, and it would be fairly surprising if he ended up earning a contract ahead of Chris Konopka. However, I'd hasten to add that the main reason for skepticism about Tornaghi is just that he hasn't played many MLS games. It's not really his fault that he got stuck backing up David Ousted, who is the only GK in MLS that can realistically call himself a peer of Bill Hamid's in terms of overall ability. His odds are only lower than Konopka's based on experience.
United's last pick in the draft, Liam Doyle, has a puncher's chance of getting a contract. Bobby Boswell is about to turn 33, and Steve Birnbaum has at least some kind of chance of playing in the Copa America Centenario. Kofi Opare is also working towards being eligible to play for Canada, who would welcome him with open arms. In other words, United could find center backs scarce this season at times, and the other options include Markus Halsti - who is needed elsewhere - and maybe Sean Franklin (who hasn't played center back outside of emergencies since he was a rookie). Doyle would have gone a round or two sooner if he counted as a domestic player, and he has the potential to play in MLS.
Going back to the defensive midfield battle, Rodriguez is an intriguing prospect. He played well against United in the CCL last year, and in losing Perry Kitchen the Black-and-Red really lost their best option in receiving the ball from the back four in possession. Rodriguez happened to do that very well for Alajuelense last year. However, I have doubts about his mobility; he's less of a runner and more of a player that trusts his positioning to get the job done. United needs someone who can cover ground alongside Halsti, and Rodriguez might run into the same awkwardness Kitchen had in pairing with the Finn.
Kevan George spent a couple of seasons with Columbus, but could never crack a very good starting central midfield. However, he has pushed his way into a starting role for Trinidad & Tobago as an Occam's Razor sort of midfielder. Simplicity for defensive midfielders is a good quality to have, and George's MLS experience makes him an interesting possibility. The downside? In games I've seen at least, he's also a little too similar to Halsti in playing style.
One player who doesn't have that problem is Paul Torres, the former DCU academy product and Maryland Terrapin who is on trial after a couple of years in Sweden and Norway. Torres was always an energetic player at Maryland, though he is as much a right midfielder as he is a central player. A dual citizen - he's Venezuelan-American - Torres has the added advantage of not taking an international spot. He will need to show significant improvement in terms of his use of the ball during his time in Scandinavia to make this roster, though.
Due to the logjam in the midfield, Rob Vincent has maybe the best chance of any of the players requiring an international roster spot. Vincent scored 18 goals last year with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds mostly playing as a wide midfielder in their 4231 formation. The role was flexible, though, and Vincent spent time as a forward or on the right as well. It's perhaps more instructive to think of him as an attacker than as a wide midfielder.
With United needing another forward, and Vincent finding his way onto the scoresheet so often, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Englishman land a spot on United's roster. His play off the ball would fit in nicely with any of the club's current forwards, and he could play on either flank in the event United needs a goal off the bench.
We've talked about Konopka already, and at the moment he seems to be the most likely signing. A 6'5" presence in the box who has won praise for his organizational chops, Konopka would be very stern competition for Andrew Dykstra heading into the season. There's a hint of "late bloomer" around the 30 year old, who bounced around MLS before having his best season as a pro last year for TFC. He might not be a spectacular shot-stopper, but in Hamid's absence United might prefer someone known for his communication and stability.