The Empire Strikes Back
Kartik Krishnaiyer, host of CSRN’s American Soccer Show
For all the hullabaloo about the single entity structure of MLS through the years one club has always seemingly gotten it right- always seemingly done better than everyone else with regards to scouting and securing Latin American talent, developing a brand name south of the border and making significant inroads in the mainstream media at home. That club is of course DC United.
For many of our readers and listeners DC United is known by a four letter acronym: SCUM. They are the only MLS team to elicit such hatred because in-spite of the efforts of other clubs like the LA Galaxy to put themselves on a similar pedestal, DC United is the only club that’s earned both the envy and respect of its opposition since the league’s inception. The bottom line is this: Not only has DC won more MLS Cups and Supporters Shields than any other club, but they have won more truly meaningful international matches than the rest of the league combined. DC United is the only American club to have defeated a reigning South American club champion, the only club to have defeated an English Premier League club in England and the only club to have won more than a single road match in the history of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Now after back to back supporter shields coupled with early playoff exits, United wants more. Led by Kevin Payne, the most seasoned executive in the league, and Dave Kaspar whose scouting network is fully developed in Latin America, unlike many other MLS clubs who are just now taking scouting seriously the “Empire” (sorry Red Bulls fans- I know your SC is the Empire Supporters Club, but they not you are the real empire) is retooling and unlike other MLS clubs who have to sell the potential of the American market to players being sought, United can show off its trophy collection and its record of utilizing Latin players in a Latin oriented style better than anyone in MLS.
Yesterday’s massive signing of five players, four of whom come per the usual DC United scouting operation of finding Latin diamonds in the rough is a message to the league. Based on the history of Marco Ethceverry, Raul Diaz Arce, Christian Gomez, Facundo Erepen and Luciano Emilio, the rest of the league ought to be trembling in their boots about these acquisitions. The fifth signing, Designated Player Marcello Gallardo is a bit riskier. Gallardo, unlike many MLS stars has actually had a good club career in Europe and was outstanding for River Plate. Gallardo also was a force for Argentina. However by signing Gallardo, the Black and Red have parted ways with Christian Gomez, something I feel is risky. Gomez fit DC United like a glove and even though he is now 33, Gallardo whose club football has always been played for big clubs in big leagues (River Plate, Monaco, PSG) may or may not adjust to MLS. When you sign player straight away from Latin America, they often times acclimate themselves better than players coming from Europe, even if they are Latin. I cannot properly explain this phenomena, but based on twelve years of watching MLS I am sure it exists.
Regardless of how Gallardo works out in Washington, the other four signings indicate again that DC’s scouting network and reputation south of the border deemed the club ready to take advantage of the liberalized rules regarding international players in MLS, while the rest of the league scrambles to fill their squad.