In a trade previously reported over the weekend, D.C. United has bolstered its midfield by trading targeted allocation money and a conditional 2018 draft pick for Marcelo Sarvas of the Colorado Rapids. Before the deal, a source told B&RU that the Rapids has agreed to carry a significant part of his salary - his base pay was $360,000 in 2015 - on their books as part of the deal. The 34 year old Brazilian counts as a domestic player for MLS roster purposes, and per Steve Goff he's already with United in Florida:
No formal trade announcement yet, but Marcelo Sarvas has arrived at D.C. United training camp— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) February 1, 2016
The move could be indicative of several things all at once. In the 442 United has used in the past few seasons, Sarvas would fit in best where Davy Arnaud had been first choice until a concussion ended his season. Arnaud's career is unfortunately still up in the air due to that injury, so moving for Sarvas may be an attempt to fill a hole in the starting lineup. It is also likely related to United's fruitless pursuits of Argentine midfielder Leonardo Gil and Antonio Nocerino, formerly a member of the Italian national team.
Of course, it might not just be about filling one hole in the lineup. United's first preseason game saw the use of a 451 formation, and as we talked about yesterday there are plenty of central midfielders in camp. It could be that Ben Olsen is considering a move away from the 442, in which case he needs good distribution and a bit of scoring punch from whatever three midfielders end up in central midfield.
That's something Sarvas has proven he can do in MLS. After initially looking simply adequate after arriving in LA but finding someone named David Beckham playing the position he's best at, Sarvas was a big part of a dominant Galaxy side in 2013 and 2014. Aside from being the hub of distribution for a team known for spreading the field, Sarvas put up some quality numbers - 7 goals and 17 assists in 61 appearances - for a player with significant defensive responsibilities. He has also tended to win things in recent years: 2 Costa Rican championships with Alajuelense as well as 2 MLS Cups during his time with the Galaxy.
However, last season saw a big drop-off after being traded to Colorado to make room for Steven Gerrard. Sarvas made 25 appearances and had just 2 goals and 1 assist. Of course, everyone on the Rapids struggled to produce in terms of goals and assists; they were a badly managed trainwreck of a team in 2015. A major question in terms of this deal is how much of that drop-off was on Sarvas just aging, and how much of it was the fact that the Rapids were a black hole for good soccer last year. United is banking that the latter was the overwhelming issue.
If Sarvas is still physically up for a full-time starting gig in MLS, United fans should see this as a moderate upgrade over Arnaud. Sarvas brings the same sort of abrasive personality and soccer IQ to the job, but he's a more skillful passer both over distance and in terms of connecting short passes to boost his side's share of possession. WhoScored.com has some data that bears this out: On a worse and more negative team, Sarvas completed a higher percentage of his passes (81.2% to 80.3%) than Arnaud, and his 0.8 key passes per game are a significant boost on Arnaud's 0.5. No one will deny that DCU could use a player that creates more scoring chances from central positions.
On the downside, United has an aging roster. If Sarvas is indeed a replacement for Arnaud, the Black-and-Red are getting someone roughly 8 months younger. Due to weather, travel, and a physical style of play, MLS is rightly considered a physically grueling league to play in. If the season started today, United's expected lineup would likely be comprised of more players over 30 than under 30. For a team that has seemed to run out of gas in the fall two years in a row, it's a notable concern. We may see a more aggressive attempt at rotating veterans throughout the season as a result.