Following D.C. United’s 3-0 throttling of FC Cincinnati over last week, combined with the earlier news that left back Mohanad Jeahze suffered a season-ending injury in training the previous week, the Black-and-Red find themselves looking perhaps even more so at what the secondary transfer window could bring. New signings? A cloned Lionel Messi? Who knows? Well, let’s go with what we know and go from there, OK?
First, the summer window (or secondary transfer window as MLS likes to call them) runs from today, July 5, 2023 until Wednesday, August 2, 2023. These are the dates between which MLS may request the international transfer certificate of a player under contract in another country. Out of contract signings are not subject to these dates.
The big factor obviously is Lewis O’Brien’s future. His loan from Nottingham Forest runs until July 16. He is not a Designated Player; those spots are reserved for Christian Benteke, Taxi Fountas and Mateusz Klich, and he’s not subject to Targeted Allocation Money as he’s on loan. That said, Wayne Rooney has expressed an interest in keeping him and reports are that D.C. have asked to extend the loan, and newly promoted Sheffield United are interested in purchasing O’Brien. So let’s go with the assumption that O’Brien leaves before the All-Star Game with Arsenal and we’re all the old guy with the beard waving and getting weepy GIF OK?
OK, so where does this leave D.C.?
If you’ve followed this space before, you kind of know where this is headed, but it gets tricky:
The wording of Jeahze’s injury makes note that he was placed on the season-ending injury list, similar to when Martin Rodriguez tore his ACL in preseason in February. It’s worth bringing these to attention because the publicly posted MLS roster rules and regulations discuss scenarios like this, and the accompanying roster relief.* So D.C. is able to sign an international player without spending extra cash, provided neither make more than who they are replacing. Rodriguez has a $1,000,000 base salary charge per the MLS Players Association salary figures in May, while Jeahze’s is $600,000.
*As an aside, Nigel Robertha has an ankle injury of his own but was placed on the regular injured list in May, as he expects to return (or at least should be) any time now. When he’s officially activated, there’s likely to be an accompanying roster move as well; Gaoussou Samake would presumably be loaned back down to Loudoun so the team can bring Robertha back in and still preserve the spare international spots.
What if they can buy O’Brien?
Well, they have 18 active senior roster players right now, and the imminent return of Robertha puts them at 19, one shy of the senior max of 20, with (I believe) eight active international spots. The most tenured international player is Robertha, who signed with the team in March 2021 and should be due for a green card any time now. If O’Brien comes aboard full-time D.C. does have a couple of options to make it work, it could be either a back-end heavy deal salary wise (as D.C.’s spending like drunken sailors for the first time in a minute) or declared as a replacement player, taking the previously discussed salary charges this year before *gestures in air* figuring out what to do about him next year, where in the winter there will be more roster and budget flexibility and certainty.
Can they sign more international guys?
Sure, but I’d imagine they’d want multi-year deals and want to know what Wayne Rooney’s 2024 plans are, so you’re either figuring out what you can do with the devil you know (in LoB) before the devil you don’t.
What’s the bottom line here?
If you need a three things:
- D.C. United does (or apparently should) have the roster and financial flexibility to sign Lewis O’Brien to a longer term deal.
- They can sign an impactful player at no financial risk this year, but should be prepared to retain him for 2024 or on an 18 month deal of some sort.
- D.C. has a bit of money and international experience coming off the books at the end of this year. I’ll say this in 4 or 5 months time, but whomever comes in after Rooney (whose contract expires at the end of the year) is going to have a chance to put more of an imprint on things, which is what I imagine D.C. is thinking heading into this window.