(I wrote this before D.C. started playing, so some parts of this *may* be stale despite my updating, but given SBN’s dumbassery and subsequent coverage on our end, hopefully the general gist is here, OK?)
We’re a couple of days since D.C. United kicked their first truly competitive soccer ball, and it only makes sense to move on to what things look like in 2024 right? No? Well, let’s do that for a second anyway.Read more: Looking past 2023 into 2024.
When I wrote this at first, Mateusz Klich had just been minted as a Designated Player and it marked the first time I can remember D.C. having all 3 DP spots filled. Then Taxi Fountas did what Taxi Fountas had a habit of doing, and he was bought out in August. In the beginning of the year I started to do a little bit of work on who D.C. could potentially wave goodbye to at the end of this season, and some in-season nips and tucks have been made. By rough math and quick count, I’ve got this list:
- Derrick Williams
- Russell Canouse
- Donovan Pines
- Ruan (option for 2024)
- Eric Davis (options for 2024 and 2025)
- Brendan Hines-Ike (options for 2024 and 2025)
- Andy Najar (option for 2024)
- Ravel Morrison (option for 2024)
- Nigel Robertha (option for 2024)
- Gaoussou Samaké (options for 2024 and 2025)
- Jose Fajardo (options for 2024 and 2025)
- Yamil Asad (options for 2024 and 2025)
- Luis Zamudio (options for 2024 and 2025)
- Ted Ku-DiPietro (options for 2024 and 2025)
- Erik Hurtado (option for 2024)
- Gabriel Pirani (loan expiration)
Now, some of those decisions are easy, like retaining KDP. Picking up the buy option for Pirani at a U22 position would allow them to retain their extra Designated Player spot, a third U22 spot and take an international spot which would be vacated by one of Morrison, Samaké or Robertha, though I’d assert Davis and/or Fajardo could be added to that group based on contract and performance. At a third goalkeeper not on the cap, Zamudio has promise and should be retained unless he wants to go.
Where things get tricky are in the categories for Williams and Hines-Ike. The latter has an option, but is injury prone, the former appears to be more the first choice despite being on a TAM deal and doubles Hines-Ike’s hit ($750k to $375k). Can you negotiate Williams down? If you want to keep him, sure. But if Steve Goff’s notes about Pines taking on a new deal are true, he will occupy a senior roster spot (currently does not count to the cap as a homegrown, the next deal would count), so that forces you to make a choice between the veterans.
The two other hard choices are Canouse and Najar, but sentimental for different reasons. When Canouse is healthy and on, his destroyer work in midfield is among the league’s best. He’s been here since 2017 and does a bunch of things for the community. But that $500,000 budget charge is hard to look at. And Najar? Well, at 30 he’s been through a lot at both club and country levels, and late in the season definitely wasn’t the same type of player he was under Hernan Losada, and his cap hit now is STILL less than Canouse’s. But this is Andy Najar, whose family has been around the organization for almost two decades, and many remember from his first tour with D.C.. There’s a reason why many faces brighten when asked about Andy Najar’s initial run with D.C. (and why I went in on a group order to get a Najar Anderlecht jersey back in the day which I still have), and it’s because you want the kid to succeed. Now he has free agency and some teams may take a spin on him. Would it hurt if he left? (Damn right.) Would D.C. like to and should spend that money on other priorities? (…Probably)
Granted, a LOT of stuff has to happen between now and when the rosters should even be compliant ahead of the first kickoff, but what I know is back before Hernan Losada was on ANYONE’S RADAR for an MLS coaching job, I said this:
At this point, we’re all back to where the default position on D.C. United should be at the moment, which is they have to nail the coaching hire for two big reasons: on-field cohesion is an easy one, and a choice that has a vision in place and is both prepared to implement it and allowed the resources to do so would do a world of good for the club.
And, well, they didn’t do that! But looking at what was done under Losada’s helm, while roster flexibility was accomplished to a degree (vis a vis the trade of Paul Arriola for allocation money), things collapsed in on themselves with how Losada handled things, or really the one thing, the conditioning of players, which seems to have caused a revolt among players and between that and players getting ground into soft tissue injuries, resulted in his dismissal. Then when Wayne Rooney came in, Julian Gressel was traded for…allocation money.
While it remains to be seen how Losada pans out in Montreal (though he at least gets into the 2023 postseason), whomever the new D.C. coach is should have a lot more at his disposal heading into 2024, they should have something along the lines of:
- Two international roster spots
- One Designated Player spot
- Between 5-7 roster spots that would count towards the roster budget/cap
- $500,000 of acquired allocation money to be used for signings (perhaps more depending on Williams’ status), in addition to the offseason money allocations. Adding onto this briefly, DC currently has six players they signed with TAM. This number could easily be halved with the departures of Morrison, Robertha and Williams, and two of the three remaining players (Martin Rodriguez, Mohanad Jeahze) are rehabilitating long-term injuries coming into 2024. Those players could be put on the injured list, and replacement players could be signed to fill those voids.
Regardless of how you stand on Losada’s managerial approach when he was sacked, whomever takes the reins for the Black-and-Red is almost certainly going to have more flexibility than Losada or (arguably) Rooney did when taking D.C.’s coaching reins (this part wrote in February and left in).
But more concerning, at the end of the 2023 season, D.C. United find themselves where they were at the end of 2020, trying to find ways to nail the head coach hire, as whomever it is will have a much more consequential imprint on how he can make on the team once announced and publicly presented, whether he knows it or not.