Just under a week ago, Ben Olsen hinted that D.C. United would be making more additions as the preseason went on. That has proven to be the case: Ugandan center back Henry Kalungi, Danish left back Jan Frederiksen, and Honduran attacker Walter Martinez have all come into camp since then, as United's search for talent has apparently expanded to cover much of the globe.
That trend continued today, as the club confirmed that Marcos Sanchez and Shavar Thomas will join United's preseason camp on trial. Sanchez, a 23 year old midfielder, has broken into the Panamanian national team recently after some strong performances with perennial CONCACAF Champions League entrant Tauro FC. Thomas, meanwhile, is a 32 year old Jamaican center back with ten seasons of MLS experience as well as 49 caps for the Reggae Boyz.
Of the two, Sanchez is the more intriguing player. He'd answer depth questions at two positions - attacking midfield and right midfield - while providing a legitimate push for time in both spots. Olsen made it clear in his player cull of 2011 that he didn't want players here who only fit in as depth at a given spot. The idea is to bring in players who can compete - either today or tomorrow - for starts.
Sanchez fits that bill. He has 16 caps already for Panama at 23, including 90 minutes in last week's 2-2 draw with Costa Rica. He's able to play both as a central attacking midfielder and out on the right, where he tends to play a bit like Nick DeLeon (meaning he pinches inside sometimes and gets his fair share of goals). He's not a physically imposing guy - think 5'8" and probably around 150 lbs - but he's got reasonable speed.
More interestingly for us, he's got a good amount of skill on the ball. Sanchez is a big fan of beating people on the dribble, both isolated out on the wing and cutting through high-traffic areas. A big plus for him is that he likes to dish the ball after beating one man, rather than falling prey to the temptation of thinking he's Lionel Messi. Sanchez does love to go at people, but he has no problem with sharing the ball with his teammates and tends to get a lot of assists for Tauro (and Panama, as seen in last week's match where his dribbling ability leads directly to the second goal for Los Canaleros).
Further, he's got experience against MLS teams, as his YouTube highlight video shows:
Within the first two minutes of this, you'll see Sanchez creating chances against Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC, and FC Dallas in CONCACAF Champions League play (the Dallas portion of the video includes a goal and two assists) as well as the USMNT. In other words, it's at least slightly more valuable than the usual highlight video against players that none of us are familiar with and leagues that are totally different from MLS.
In those games, Sanchez's position depends on whether Tauro is home or away. At home, he tends to play right midfield in a 442. On the road or against a Mexican powerhouse, Tauro goes to a very conservative 4141, in which Sanchez plays one of the two central midfield roles ahead of the lone defensive midfielder. In last fall's group stage, Sanchez played every minute of all four matches as Tauro finished at the bottom of RSL's group.
Sanchez is not the Panamanian midfielder we were rumored to be after previously. That rumor was for Alberto Quintero, a far more defensive player also capable of playing on the right or in the middle. Quintero probably didn't fit our style of play as anything more than a defensive substitute or if we were trying to grind out a road game. Sanchez, on the other hand, does fit the attractive style Olsen wants United to play with. He may lack a bit defensively compared to DeLeon and Chris Pontius, but he's not a lazy player by any means.
As for Thomas, it's clear that United is well aware of the need to replace Emiliano Dudar on the roster. Kyle Altman's trial was apparently cut short due to the concussion he suffered against Malmö, and his place in camp was immediately given to Richmond Kickers captain Kalungi. Thomas arrives with a ton of MLS experience, but there are also question marks about the big Jamaican.
While Thomas is generally regarded as a good character in the locker room, he has struggled with injuries and fitness from time to time. He's only made 35 appearances in MLS since the start of the 2010 season, but much of that time he was simply the third-best center back on a given team. With Sporting Kansas City, the emergence of Matt Besler and the arrival of Aurelien Collin pushed him out, while he was a regular for the Montreal Impact last season until the Quebecois side signed both Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari.
For United, Thomas would be more like a lesser version of Brandon McDonald: Big, physical, strong, but not the fastest player. McDonald is the faster of the pair, however, and is a better organizer (a key trait for anyone playing alongside Dejan Jakovic). However, his age and injury history might make the younger players we've looked at more tempting. His Jamaican roots won't be a problem, as Thomas is a US green card holder.
It's also worth noting that the Seattle Sounders - a team with similar ambitions to win trophies in 2013 - had a look just last week. The fact that Thomas is already on trial with us doesn't indicate that he impressed Sigi Schmid, though the Sounders are potentially deeper at center back than we are (particularly if 1st round pick Eriq Zavaleta ends up as a center back rather than a forward, which Schmid has indicated is the plan).