clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

D.C. United Trade Targets - Some much-needed attacking help from within MLS

DCU only avoided tying a record for offensive futility by scoring in the final game of the season, so obviously the Black-and-Red need some better attacking players. While there will probably be signings from abroad, United needs enough help that a trade or two would probably make a lot of sense if a deal can be made.

Marvin Chavez wants to leave the Quakes, but still looks good in black.
Marvin Chavez wants to leave the Quakes, but still looks good in black.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

To save us all the pain, I'll keep this brief: D.C. United's offense was dreadful last season. For a return to the playoffs - or even just respectability, which is a long way away - United will have to go acquire several new players capable of generating and/or converting chances up top and on the wings. While it seems safe to expect a striker to be brought in from abroad, it would be ludicrous to sign just that player and not make any more moves.

The positive news for United is that several teams either have a player that wants to be traded or some positional logjam that virtually demands they get some allocation money for a player that otherwise won't see much time. There are some real win-win deals out there if United can strike a deal with the right partner:

Marvin Chavez

Let's start with some low-hanging fruit. San Jose Earthquakes winger Chavez - who United fans first met when he was a constant menace for CD Marathon all the way back in the first-ever CONCACAF Champions League - wants out according to this interview he gave to the Honduran press. To boil things down, Chavez (justifiably) feels that new Quakes boss Mark Watson doesn't want to play him. Chavez got just four starts out of the fourteen matches Watson was in charge of, and only played 52 minutes in the final seven San Jose games in 2013. That's a bit of a strange decision from Watson, because in most of those games he ended up preferring Cordell Cato, a lesser version of Chavez who has lots of potential but is also extremely raw.

For United, Chavez would add something we don't currently have. He's faster than Nick DeLeon, more consistent than Kyle Porter, and a hell of a lot more skillful than Sainey Nyassi. He can also do this sort of thing from long range, a quality that only Jared Jeffrey and Luis Silva currently bring to the table. In the two seasons where Chavez has gotten over 1500 minutes (2011 and 2012), his average goalscoring pace would give him six over a full 34-game slate (and eleven assists). I think that assist total is skewed by being on last season's "every shot goes in" Earthquakes team, but it's still reasonable to expect him to be able to put up 7-8 assists, which is nothing to sneeze at.

There's one other factor here that, in my book, is a big positive. As our friends over at Quake Rattle & Goal noted a few days ago, Chavez needs to ensure his spot on the Honduran World Cup team. With Garcia and Najar in their pool, there aren't too many other spots on the plane for wingers. If Chavez isn't playing this spring, he won't be going to Brazil. That's a major motivator for a guy that has never been to the tournament before. Having just turned 30 last month, "El Hijo Del Viento" - The Son of the Wind, a very accurate nickname for an elusive speedster like Chavez - isn't going to get another chance when 2018 rolls around.

What are the issues here? Well, Chavez currently makes $175,000, which is just a tad too high in my view. However, United's need for speed, trickery, and someone to push or surpass DeLeon might require overpaying a little bit. I'd rather overpay by a small sum than underpay and have another 2013.

The other major issue is that Chavez tends to pick up minor injuries a bit more often than most. Assuming Olsen stays with a 442/4411, this problem will be mitigated due to the fact that Chavez would probably be rotated with DeLeon and Chris Pontius. Since Chavez can play on either side - that link to the free kick bomb was a left-footed blast - Olsen would be able to pick and choose which wingers are best for which opponent.

In a congested year, you need a bench that has a few guys that are good enough to start in MLS but aren't starting for your club. Chavez - either by being that kind of guy or pushing someone else into that type of role - makes that happen if United can swing a deal. He won't even take up an international spot thanks to his green card. Dave Kasper should already have San Jose GM John Doyle on the phone.

Ryan Johnson (or some other Timbers forward)

I've headlined this with Johnson because he seems to be the player Caleb Porter would have the easiest time parting ways with, but the Portland Timbers have four strikers that would help improve United's strength at forward. Frederic Piquionne is an aging veteran, but his aerial presence and experience would still help a team lacking both. Jose Adolfo Valencia has huge potential and all the athletic gifts you could want in a striker, and won't turn 22 for about two more weeks. Maximiliano Urruti is a player Kevin Payne was after even when he was running things here, and as the season wore on Porter often preferred the young Argentine's work rate and intelligent movement off the ball.

Johnson is probably the best fit for United, though. It would be odd for Portland to part with young players that are already capable of playing regular minutes for them, and I doubt United will pursue Piquionne due to his age (he turns 35 this week). The powerful, hard-working Jamaican fits the demands Olsen places on his #9s: He can hold the ball up, he's mobile, and he stays involved in games even when the service isn't that good. Imagine Lionard Pajoy without his most glaring flaws - the being offside, the holding the ball for too long, and the abysmal finishing - but with more speed, more skill, and a willingness to mix it up like Maicon Santos did in 2012.

At 29, Johnson is the right age: Experienced, but not old. He managed 9 goals and 4 assists for the Timbers last season in 1770 minutes, meaning that he was either scoring or assisting a goal once every 136 minutes. While Johnson hasn't ever scored more than 11 in a single MLS season, that's mostly down to coaches splitting his time between being a forward and being a wide midfielder.

For United, that would be pointless. We need better strikers, and Johnson is better than any forward we have. He has a green card, so there's no international spot problem, and his $144,704 salary is a decent value. Johnson carries none of the risks that will come with the forward from abroad that we expect United to sign, either. Having him on the roster would mean not having the whole season boil down to whether a Dave Kasper international signing works or not.

CJ Sapong (or some other SKC forward)

It's a somewhat similar situation: Lots of forwards, not a lot of spots on the field. Dom Dwyer probably isn't going anywhere given his age and his relentless running being a good fit for what Peter Vermes wants out of his team. However, the Sporks have three other center forwards - Claudio Bieler, CJ Sapong, and Teal Bunbury - and it seems unlikely that they can keep them happy.

Bieler is probably not on Olsen's shopping list, given that he's basically an Argentine Hamdi Salihi. That leaves Sapong and Bunbury, both of whom would help United get more athletic up front. They're slightly different players: Bunbury tends to stay central while Sapong's mobility means he usually lines up as a wide forward in KC's 433. However, he could easily be a busy, powerful target man for a team playing a 442, so the issue isn't a major one.

In terms of salary, Sapong is the better player to pursue. His base salary was only $75,000 in 2013, while Bunbury's $110,000 base salary nearly doubles when you throw in his total guaranteed compensation. However, in terms of quality, I'm not sure there's a difference. Sapong is the faster, stronger player, but only by a small margin. Bunbury's skill is probably higher, but his development stalled a bit after a long recovery from a torn ACL in 2012.

Signing Sapong or Bunbury would be about adding a young (Sapong will be 25 this month, while Bunbury will be 24 by Opening Day 2014) forward capable of doing well as a starter, but not necessarily who we should be counting on to be our double-digit goalscorer. With Sapong, the issue is finishing. Simply put, he's the kind of striker that needs four or five chances to score a goal.

Bunbury, meanwhile, could end up being a great move if he can get back to his 2011 form. He essentially lost a season and a half due to that knee injury, and he hasn't had enough minutes since being cleared to play to judge whether he can build on where he was before the injury or if his career will plateau early.

Sapong - a Manassas native who played briefly with United's academy team - has long been a popular trade target for fans of the Black-and-Red, but I wonder if Bunbury wouldn't be the better fit. Sapong's finishing hasn't improved since he won the 2011 Rookie of the Year, and KC even felt the need to shake him out of a midseason malaise by sending him on loan to Orlando City briefly. Bunbury, meanwhile, has one more career MLS goal than Sapong in 1200 fewer career minutes played.

Calen Carr (or Omar Cummings)

The Houston Dynamo are yet another team with some redundancy at forward. Cummings, after years of poor form and injury problems, finally looked like his old self during this year's playoffs. The Jamaican veteran had his speed back, but more importantly looked confident for the first time in ages. A speedy, crafty forward that won't take up an international spot (Cummings has a green card)? Sign me up.

Then again, Cummings made $225,000 last season, so perhaps it's better to look elsewhere on the Dynamo roster. Funnily enough, they have a very similar player to Cummings in Carr, last seen being Houston's X factor in the 2012 playoffs. Carr was arguably on his way to a man of the match performance in the 2012 MLS Cup before tearing his ACL early in the second half. That injury kept him out until this past August, which is when he returned to practicing at 100%. Houston never really found an opening to get him minutes in games, though, so he ended up not playing for a second in 2013. Carr's $90,338 salary in 2013 could be a steal if his recovery was a good one.

In either case, we're talking about a veteran with speed, intelligent movement, and a knack for producing when their team needs goals. Neither player is necessarily a full-time starter on a playoff team, but both would be starters on the current United roster and would make regular appearances - whether starting or coming off the bench - on any hypothetically improved DCU team come March. Both players would add something United lacks, and players with their speed tend to stretch teams vertically, which in turn means more room for guys like Silva.

It's hard to see the Dynamo keeping both players in orange next season, and it's another case where it's clear that someone has to go. That means little leverage for Houston, which could translate to a cheap trade if United is interested.

Darren Mattocks

Mattocks is a classic high risk/high reward target. On one hand, the 23 year old Jamaican is a freakishly athletic striker capable of turning nothing into something. He's already a regular for the Reggae Boyz, and should become a bona fide star in MLS. His 10 goals over two seasons isn't that impressive, but there are mitigating factors. Camilo's emergence as a Golden Boot winner as a center forward left Mattocks with nowhere to fit into Martin Rennie's 433.

Rennie himself is also a factor in that less-than-thrilling productivity, as the ex-Whitecaps boss preferred to use Mattocks as a supersub for most of 2013. In his career, Mattocks has only played 2211 minutes (equal to just over 24.5 games). Over a full season, that "10 goals in two seasons" would translate to 14 goals, or almost 66% of what United managed as a team in 2013.

On the other hand, Mattocks gives interviews like this, referring to himself in the third person while publicly throwing his head coach under the bus. Rennie did appear to mismanage Mattocks on a regular basis, but trashing him in this fashion is a bad sign in terms of professionalism. As a rookie, Mattocks would also fade out of games somewhat routinely, making him the sort of hot-and-cold striker that causes coaches and fans to pull their hair out. He's also got some real issues with his temper, which is illustrated by his seven yellow card/two red card rookie season.

You know what though? United needs special players, and Mattocks is worth the risk from where I sit. He has truly rare talent: Elite speed, supreme confidence in front of goal, and he was responsible for possibly the greatest leap in MLS history. His base salary is only $120,000, and at that price I'd say he's well worth a roll of the dice. Mattocks has indicated that he's done with the Whitecaps (even with Rennie gone), but his resume doesn't have the one standout season a player usually needs to pursue a big-time European contract.

In all likelihood, he'll be putting up double digit goals for someone in MLS in 2014, and United needs precisely that kind of player. Mattocks may be a mercurial talent, but in my view at least his talent is worth the potential headache.

Adam Jahn

Jahn is a towering target man for the Earthquakes, a team that already has Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart competing for minutes alongside Chris Wondolowski. While Jahn logged over 1000 minutes as a rookie in 2013, a lot of his time came due to injuries to the Bash Brothers. With that dubious duo fit in the latter third of the season, Jahn became a common timewasting sub (playing ten minutes spread across four games out of the last eleven games for the Quakes), only snagging starts in CCL play.

That shouldn't be seen as a knock on Jahn though. Gordon and Lenhart are not very popular around MLS, but they're effective at what they do and more experienced than the 23 year old Stanford product. Jahn is a slightly different player from those two as well, earning the nickname "Pillow Feet" due to his soft touch. Before he was fired, Frank Yallop even gave Jahn some serious minutes in central midfield due to his comfort on the ball.

It might be hard to pry a talented young forward away from San Jose, but Gordon still has a few years left in him and Lenhart isn't going anywhere. Jahn isn't going to get much time in the near future in San Jose, and in any case Watson didn't exactly go out of his way to find him minutes.

Jahn's qualities as a player would mesh with what Olsen wants out of a target striker. He's physical, he works hard, and he can hold the ball up quite capably. He scored four goals in 2013, a decent return given that half of his twenty-two appearances were off the bench. I wouldn't expect Jahn to come in and be the #9 that could lead us back to the playoffs, but United isn't just one striker away from that sort of thing. Most likely, we need to bring in more than one forward that can contribute regularly, and Jahn would offer an aerial presence that United has sorely lacked in recent years.

If that doesn't sell you on him, maybe the price tag will. Jahn - a 2013 Supplemental Draft pick - doesn't even make the "on budget roster" minimum! He's on $35,125 right now, which means he'd take up an "off budget" roster spot and essentially be a free player.