On Thursday, D.C. United and the rest of MLS’s clubs will get a shot at the second round of the Re-Entry Draft. How does this differ from the first round? To keep things brief, the first round obliges you to sign the player as is. The second round is more just the right to negotiate a new deal; generally speaking, you’re looking to sign a player for less than he made the previous year.
It’s unsurprisingly the more popular round of the Re-Entry Draft. The three players taken last week pushed the grand total of players selected in the first round to 19; that’s not even an average of three players per draft. The second round has seen 55 players selected, and that’s with this year’s still to come.
Personally, I don’t expect a particularly active version this time around. The Re-Entry Draft pool is not at all deep this time around. To put it bluntly, there is a solid argument to be made that United should just pass (or, if they want to take a page out of the New York Red Bulls playbook, just completely fail to show up like NYRB did back in 2012). An article about not doing anything is no fun, though, so instead let’s look at some players United should be considering:
Relevant 2016 stats: 228 minutes (12 appearances/2 starts), 0 goals, 0 assists with RSL; 717 minutes (12 appearances, 8 starts), 1 goal, 2 assists with the NASL’s Rayo OKC
I know, you’re reading those goal and assist numbers, and re-reading “Striker,” and thinking “why this guy?” Including playoffs, Sandoval’s career MLS stats are not thrilling: 77 appearances, 38 starts, 10 goals, 3 assists. This year, Real Salt Lake ended up sending him out on loan to Rayo OKC because he wasn’t getting any playing time with Yura Movsisyan in town.
However, there was a time not long ago that Sandoval was looked at as something of the new version of Brian Ching. That is to say, a hardworking target man who made his team more effective at scoring goals, even if he was not the most likely goalscorer. There was even talk that RSL’s pre-Jeff Cassar diamond might be better off with him starting over Alvaro Saborio.
Sandoval’s 2016 salary was essentially the MLS senior minimum, so United has probably already decided they’re not interested. Sandoval is only in the Re-Entry Draft because he’s out of contract, but not eligible for MLS’s version of free agency. However, they might want to reconsider that. Sandoval is mobile and physical enough to play up front in United’s system, and a player who puts in a ton of work so that others might end up scoring would probably work quite well on a team with plenty of scoring threats coming from midfield.
On top of that, United simply has no replacement for Patrick Mullins right now. Jose Ortiz is a speedster who may end up on the wing; Alhaji Kamara seems to prefer running the channels over posting up with his back to goal. Sandoval is hardly the kind of option to set pulses racing, but there’s a reasonable role for him within United’s squad right now. If they don’t value the draft options available at #12 next month (and friends, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Gordon Wild and Jeremy Ebobisse will not be on the board for United), Sandoval is a viable option.
Position: Striker/right winger
Relevant 2016 stats: 605 minutes (14 appearances, 7 starts), 2 goals, 1 assist with NYCFC
Taylor had an up-and-down 2016. He started five of NYCFC’s first six games of the season, but a combination of injury and other options saw Patrick Vieira leave Taylor out for a three month stretch as spring became summer. Once he was fit again, he became something of a regular, appearing in eight of the Pigeons’ final thirteen regular season games and as a sub in both of their playoff matches.
However, Taylor - a former US u20 whose career ran aground thanks to a poor decision to sign with Traffic Sports - did manage to make his international debut in 2016, so it wasn’t all rough. Taylor’s parents are from Panama, and after filing the paperwork, he made his debut for los Canaleros in November as they tied Mexico 0-0 in the Hexagonal. In other words, Panama trusted him enough to bring him into a tense game against CONCACAF’s best team.
Does United really need Taylor? He’s pretty similar to Jose Ortiz in terms of being a striker/winger combo, though he is better in the air (he’s 6’ and has a good leap). He’s probably more capable of fitting in as a center forward in United’s 4141, though he might run into a similar issue as Kamara. Taylor’s not a back-to-goal player, and that might make it hard for United to build attacks the way they like to.
However, in a talent-thin Re-Entry pool, Taylor is a name worth noting. He’d be quite affordable - NYCFC paid him $91,875 in 2016 per the MLS Players Union - and appeared to be finally finding himself under Vieira after years of neglect abroad and under different coaches in MLS.
Position: Center back/right back
Relevant 2016 stats: 918 minutes (15 appearances, 11 starts)
United fans might remember Williams from his time with the Columbus Crew. Remember the 2014 season opener? Williams, pushing up hyper-aggressively from right back, was a big part of Columbus coming to RFK and stomping the Black-and-Red. This was unexpected for a number of reasons: it was Gregg Berhalter’s MLS coaching debut, which meant the first look at his stylistic approach (a hallmark of which is attacking fullback play).
It was also a departure for Williams, who had been more of an athletic defender capable of playing either centrally or on the right rather than the kind of attacking terror whose use of the ball could destabilize an opposing defense. We haven’t seen all that much of that from Williams since. Jason Kreis didn’t find much use for him at NYCFC in 2015, and by July he was shipped off to Toronto.
At TFC, though, he broke through. After waiting three games to make his debut, Williams played the full 90 in Toronto’s final twelve regular season games as well as in their playoff defeat against Montreal. Greg Vanney’s tactical tinkering and increased competition for time reduced his role this year, but part of the reason TFC felt comfortable enough to go to a 352 in the final months of the season was that Williams could step in to that formation without much trouble at all. If anything, right-center back in a 352 might be his ideal role.
United isn’t going to be playing with a back three any time soon, but they do find themselves short right now as far as fullbacks go. Chris Korb apparently plans to fight for a new contract in the preseason, but after a year and a half away from the game due to a knee injury, it’s uncertain what he can do. United could reasonably focus on drafting a fullback in the first round to take over that spot on the roster, but they’ve always preferred to draft the best player available regardless of position.
Williams was probably a bit expensive for being a depth defender on a team with three Designated Players (his deal guaranteed him $131,250 in 2016), but at a renegotiated price tag, he’d probably fit what Ben Olsen wants out of a right back. The job here is to be the more conservative fullback so United maintains balance when Taylor Kemp goes forward, but like Franklin Williams can actually contribute when he gets forward. He’d add another strong aerial defender to the mix, and having someone who can play two roles always helps on gameday.
Now, with those suggestions out of the way, let’s talk about two popular names that United should probably avoid. Let’s start with Michael Stephens, a player I rate quite highly. Why should DC avoid a good soccer player? Redundancy. If Olsen is comfortable with a more technical, attack-minded #8 alongside Luciano Acosta, he already has Julian Buescher pushing hard for more minutes, and the club should be making a strong attempt to sign Ian Harkes to a homegrown deal. If the choice is for more of a ball-winner, then Jared Jeffrey and Rob Vincent (and possibly Marcelo Sarvas, if United lands a new starting #6) will be battling for those minutes. And let’s not forget that United also has Nick DeLeon capable of playing centrally or, as Stephens can, wide.
Stephens should be taken by someone in this draft. In fact, the Chicago Fire deciding to decline his option (he’s only making $115,000 for this past season, so it’s not financial) is evidence of the kind of thinking that leads to two straight last place finishes. However, United simply has too many players who can do what Stephens does. If they select him, it would almost have to be taken as a signal that someone else is leaving.
Finally, let’s talk about Chris Klute. A spectacular 2013 (7 assists in 31 appearances as a left back) with the Colorado Rapids put him on the map - he was called into the USMNT’s January camp that winter - and he’s often brought up by fans of teams in need of a fullback. However, 2013 was a long time ago, and Klute has not done much of anything since. He did manage to play over 2100 minutes with the Rapids in 2014, but he was far less effective. Columbus was still interested enough that they traded back in the first round of the draft (and threw in some allocation money to boot) to pick him up, but Klute ended up playing just 832 minutes.
This year, he managed eight appearances (all starts) for the Portland Timbers, but the last of those came on May 28th. The Timbers ended up signing Vytas to take over at left back, and sent Klute on loan to Minnesota in the NASL in September. There, Klute played a grand total of 11 minutes. That’s not a typo. Eleven minutes.
In other words, the Klute people always talk about hasn’t been seen for three full seasons. United needs fullback depth to be sure, but they should probably look elsewhere. Klute is still only 26, but unless he wants to sign on for the senior minimum (he was guaranteed $91,920.85 in 2016 according to the MLSPU), it’s hard to see the point of selecting him.