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D.C. United Trade Targets - Even more defensive pick-ups within the league

D.C. United obviously needs to add multiple defenders, which is bad news. The good news? There are so many potential additions that could be available within MLS that we can do two parts on that seemingly narrow topic.

Let's hope United is trying right this second to trade for Justin Morrow.
Let's hope United is trying right this second to trade for Justin Morrow.

We've already looked at some defenders around MLS that D.C. United should consider trading for. However, United sorely needs both starters and depth in the back, so it can't hurt to consider a few more such candidates.

Interestingly, it might be a very good time to be a team in need of defensive help. A spate of coaching changes around the league has probably made certain players more expendable as the new bosses look for flexibility in molding their teams. Several pretty good defenders were pushed to the bench by foreign acquisitions or the emergence of young starters, and those players could just need a quick change of scenery to get back to their best.

Justin Morrow

Morrow has come up a few times among DC fans, and Bald Pollack brought him up in a comment the first time we looked at defensive trade targets. At 26, Morrow has already been a full-time starter for a Supporters Shield winner and got a cap last January during the traditional USMNT camp for players based in MLS and Scandinavia. Morrow is a well-rounded, swift left back who has also filled in capably at center back and even left midfield. His cap hit isn't cheap ($130,000), but he's also very much worth that price. Ben Olsen also knows him from last year's All Star game, so there should be no mystery in terms of his attitude in training and away from the field.

So why is he even available? The Quakes signed English veteran Jordan Stewart to give themselves some depth, and San Jose's team-wide ennui during the first half of the season saw Frank Yallop replaced by his former assistant Mark Watson. Watson had to make changes, and Stewart happened to be starting when the Quakes turned things around. He wasn't appreciably better than Morrow - the real reason they defended better was Clarence Goodson - but he is bigger and a bit more attack-minded. It appears that Watson prefers the veteran, and he probably doesn't want to pay a back-up left back six figures.

Morrow would immediately be a huge upgrade for United. Left back was problematic all year long, and Morrow would likely be the best individual defender on the team. He's more athletic than Daniel Woolard or James Riley, and more capable of adding to the attack with crosses. Plus, as we've seen over the years, having someone who can fill in at center back without being a disaster is always nice.

Bottom line: If Morrow can be had, United's only reason for not pursuing him vigorously is that they've found a better left back while scouting the rest of the world. That seems unlikely, so let's hope we're only a few weeks from discussing United's acquisition of Morrow.

Heath Pearce

Let's start with the negatives here: Pearce was wildly overpaid last season ($331,236), has been dogged for the past two years with rumors that he lacks commitment, and is coming off of a season-ending hip surgery.

However, the surface complaints are not as problematic as they seem. Pearce will be in the Re-Entry Draft after those filthy Jersey goons agreed to part ways with him today. That means the price to acquire Pearce is nothing more than selecting him in the second round of the RED (a first round selection would mean United would have to take on his existing contract, which would be a big mistake that no one will make).

That lack of commitment? It's most likely related to the hip surgery, as Pearce was trying to play through an apparently chronic and painful injury. Without that information, seeing Pearce run at what was clearly below his top speed made it easy to think "he doesn't care." With that information, however, it makes a lot more sense that those slow sprints were just the best he could offer due to a physical problem.

It helps to remember what Pearce was doing before his hip began to really deteriorate this past spring. He was coming off of two straight All Star seasons having smoothly converted from left back to center back (note: the previous link says this conversion "was always a source of confusion amongst soccer pundits," a statement that frankly makes no sense to me whatsoever given his clear success and the plaudits he got from those same pundits).

Pearce took on an organizing role in those seasons, too, which means he'd address an enormous need for United. We're also talking about a guy with 35 USMNT caps - he was also among the final seven cuts from the 2010 World Cup roster - and extensive experience in Europe.

At 29, his age is pretty much ideal: Experienced enough to improve this team in a department we were weak in during 2013, yet not actually old (like most of our 2013 veterans). The hip surgery is not exactly the best news, but Ives Galarcep's note on his being released says that he's ahead of schedule.

There are big question marks here, obviously. Pearce's hip would need to show no signs of relapse or a need for further surgery, and he'd have to take a pay cut of at least 30% to make the deal palatable for United. However, the latter at least seems plausible given that he's without a job, and the former is something United can investigate.

If you're still skeptical of whether Pearce would be a good fit, think of it this way: Would you rather roll the dice on United finding an equivalent center back abroad? Do I need to remind you of this list? Pearce's skill set would also make him a good partner for Dejan Jakovic (or Ethan White if we decide to move on).

Zach Loyd

The reason Loyd would be available - and the reason United would want him - is fairly similar to what's going on with Morrow. Dallas had a team-wide down year, and eventually Schellas Hyndman was trying to make changes in several positions to see if there was a winning formula somewhere in there. Homegrown player Kellyn Acosta did well enough, and when the season was clearly not going to end with a playoff spot, the smartest thing to do long-term was to keep the kid out there at right back learning his trade.

Loyd's best position is right back, but like Morrow he can play elsewhere. The first of Loyd's three USMNT caps was actually at left back, and he's filled in at center back from time to time as well. He's got decent speed and strength, but really catches the eye with his leaping ability. There have been times when the UNC product has shown some strong ability to jump into the attack and help, but generally he's had to be the more conservative fullback for FC Dallas when playing opposite Jair Benitez.

Benitez, incidentally, is why Loyd might not be so easy to acquire. The Colombian will be 35 before the preseason starts; as we just saw with De Ro, it's hard to justify keeping old players after a bad season. If Dallas decides to move on without Benitez, their as-yet-unnamed new head coach will have to decide whether he trusts Michel to defend well enough to play there. If not, FCD might want to keep Loyd around.

For United, acquiring Loyd (and his salary of $92,372.50) would probably mean moving Chris Korb to left back. This would still improve the starting lineup, because whether or not Korb is better at left back than right back - jury's still out on that - he's still better than anyone else on the team at left back. Overall he's a slightly less interesting prospect than Morrow, but he'd still pretty clearly improve United's starting eleven.

Josh Williams

This post is starting to sound like a broken record: Versatile fullback, struggling team, re-shuffle out of desperation, new guy takes his jerb. Williams was first-choice at right back for the Columbus Crew and scored three goals early in the season. However, when Brian Bliss took over for Robert Warzycha, he wanted a more attack-minded team and turned to Crew Academy product Chad Barson instead.

While Williams never quite looked like a natural out on the right (he came into MLS as a center back), his overall athleticism is still very impressive, and he's not an oaf on the ball or lacking the soccer IQ to make a difference for United. It doesn't hurt that he's been steadily improving since being drafted in 2010. On the financial side, the price ($52,313) is certainly attractive for what Williams brings to the table.

United could use a boost in athleticism and size, and Williams would instantly be the best target (by far) in the box on free kicks and corners. Where he'd fit into the starting lineup would be an interesting question: Williams at right back would see Korb to left back, which would be an improvement. He could also provide serious competition at center back, though with Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White available he'd be redundant. Jakovic's future might still be up in the air given his salary and inconsistency, though, so bringing in Williams and saving $150,000 might not be the worst idea.

Of course, all of this might be moot, as the Crew just re-signed Williams, an indicator that new coach Gregg Berhalter might go with him over Barson (or at least sees him as the Crew's fifth-best defender, which means he'll play a lot even if he's not first-choice). It never hurt to ask, though, and Berhalter doesn't strike me as someone who wears blinders when it comes to a long-term plan. Williams is good, but not irreplaceable, and it could be that Berhalter prefers the flexibility of allocation money.

Johnny Leveron

This Honduran international pushed his way into a starting role with the Vancouver Whitecaps for a while this season, before serial tinkerer Martin Rennie went in a different direction because that's just what he does.

Leveron isn't necessarily a superstar waiting to happen, but at 23 years old and making just $60,000, it's hard to ignore a guy who already has 22 caps for Honduras (though he's currently on the fringes and likely is only going to Brazil if someone else gets hurt). He's also a more cultured defender than we've had in a while, able to play out of the back capably and relying on his reading of the game more than simply overpowering people. This comes from the fact that he's also a pretty decent defensive midfielder (not that we need one).

It's hard to say what Carl Robinson whoever the future Whitecaps head coach is will do at center back given Andy O'Brien's age, Jay DeMerit's injury history, and Carlyle Mitchell's being not very good. It could be that Robinson sees Leveron as vital. However, it seems more likely that Leveron is an afterthought for Vancouver, and he'd make a very cheap upgrade over using Woolard at center back, or pulling Kitchen out of his best position to fill in. 23 year old national teamers don't grow on trees, and in MLS they don't make a hair over the league minimum either.

Stephen Keel

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that career back-up Keel is the answer for United's need to improve their starting center back. He isn't.

What Keel is for our purposes is a solid veteran with a low price - $46,500, the lowest price you can pay a grown-up in MLS - which is to say he's something United usually has not had in the Dave Kasper era. For whatever reason, Kasper has preferred to build rosters that are one center back too shallow, and more often than not it shows. Jakovic and White have both tended to have injury problems in their careers, and what's left are guys that are undersized and not natural center backs. We played James Riley at center back in the season finale!

FC Dallas is undergoing a huge re-organization now that Hyndman is moving on, and they have four true center backs ahead of Keel assuming everyone is healthy. Even if Ugo Ihemelu is forced to retire due to concussion issues, Keel won't get time ahead of George John, Matt Hedges, or Walker Zimmerman. At 30, Dallas probably has no reason to keep him around as depth when they already have plenty of depth.

For United, though, Keel makes a lot of sense. There's no need to find yourself short of center backs when a guy like Keel is (probably) available for literally the least amount of money you can hire an MLS player for. The sort of trade involved would be along the lines of "4th round draft pick" or "rights to Charlie Davies," not some huge amount of allocation money or our #1 draft pick.

In other words, we should be calling FCD today trying to make this happen. Keel is the kind of player that every team in MLS has to call on from time to time. Look at this year's playoffs, where guys like Eric Brunner and Lovel Palmer are starting for Houston and RSL, respectively. Are they great players? No. Are they good enough to fill in without a huge drop in your team's chances of victory? Yes, and that's something United could use.