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Here’s why Ben Olsen is talking about a ‘blank canvas’ for D.C. United in 2018

It looks like the floor will be clear for a significant rebuild after finishing last in the East

At media availability last week, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen hinted at forthcoming changes to the squad during this offseason. Phrases like “quite a bit” of roster turnover and having “a blank canvas” with which to build the roster were tossed about.

He’s right, and it sounds like he’s betting on using a template United put together (and other teams have massaged into their own since) a few years ago to climb back up the standings.

Let’s recap some of the people covered in Steve Goff’s article. He notes that Sean Franklin, Jared Jeffrey, Deshorn Brown and Patrick Nyarko are doubtful to return (all of which we have heard independently). Goff goes on to mention Marcelo Sarvas, Chris Korb, Rob Vincent and either Travis Worra or Eric Klenofsky as players who may not be back for 2018.

One name Goff did not list was Lloyd Sam, and based on what we’ve heard his omission can only mean he is liable to re-sign at a lower price tag.

So, let’s look at where the team would be at this point. Here’s the list. Players with an expiring contract for 2017 are listed in bold italics, while italicized players are senior roster (a.k.a. “on budget”) players.

D.C. United roster status

Last Name First Name Base Guaranteed
Last Name First Name Base Guaranteed
Acosta Luciano $500,000 $602,000
Arriola Paul $336,000 $350,000
Birnbaum Steve $474,996 $499,996
Canouse Russell $65,000.04 $65,000.04
Clark Steve $72,000 $72,000
DeLeon Nick $255,000 $255,000
Durkin Chris $70,000 $79,166.67
Harkes Ian $90,000 $123,237.50
Kemp Taylor $120,000 $120,000
Klenofsky Eric $53,004 $56,754
Miranda Bruno $53,000.04 $57,476.13
Mullins Patrick $114,125 $144,125
Odoi-Atsem Chris $65,004 $72,500.04
Opare Kofi $105,000 $120,000
Robinson Jalen $69,996 $69,996
Sam Lloyd $240,000 $250,000
Stieber Zoltan $99,999.96 $99.999.96
Worra Travis $65,625 $65,625

D.C. would be projected to have 19 roster players, and contrary to the ‘play the olds’ rep Olsen has, the only players over 30 in that group are Sam and Clark. If nothing changes about who United keeps, there will be 11 senior roster spots taken out of a possible 20.

In short, Olsen and Dave Kasper have 7-9 budget spots to fill and can use approximately $1.5 million (of a $4 million salary cap) to do so, with assumptions made for raises for existing players. Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola will occupy Designated Player and Young Designated Player spots, respectively, and as such their caps are fixed and figured in, as is Patrick Mullins’ extension.

So, what can they do? Well, supplemental and reserve spots are not figured into the cap, meaning whomever D.C. does pick at #3 in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft will probably not count towards the cap. They can get someone as a regularly used sub or outright starter depending on how the draft goes. Remember, six of the above listed roster players (including three of the senior roster players) were D.C. draft picks, meaning that United has often done some work at the SuperDraft.

There’s also free agency. Paul Tenorio put together a list in September, with guys like outside backs Steven Beitashour and Seth Sinovic and center backs like Drew Moor and recently minted Defender of the Year Ike Opara potentially available. Then there’s the Re-Entry Draft, where players like David Ousted (the 2015 Goalkeeper of the Year runner-up) may be on the table. D.C. will have first shot in the latter, which will include more players as contract option refusals are made public. For a team that rebuilt after 2013 in part by reaching RED deals with Franklin, Bobby Boswell and Fabian Espindola, they’ll certainly identify players of need who they can acquire through these mechanisms.

With a months-long road trip ahead of them in 2018 and increased pressure to succeed now that rent at RFK Stadium isn’t a problem, it’s nice to have the canvas. It’s also doubly important to get the painting right.