The signature franchise in Major League Soccer had a distinctly un-signature like season. DC United has for years been able to use its extensive scouting network in Latin America to succeed in attracting under the radar South American players to the club. However the attempts to reach for bigger name players: former Copa America winner Gonzalo Martinez and longtime Argentina National Team midfielder Marcello Gallardo both more or less flopped given expectations, and under the radar signings Franco Neill, Jose Carvalho, and Gonzalo Peralta did not perform up to expectations either.
A year ago following, the signing of these five players, I predicted a renaissance for DC United. These predictions were off base: my faith in DC United’s ability to identify and sign top South American talent and turn these signings into an MLS dynasty took a blow in 2008.
What happened? For starters despite his years of out thinking other MLS executives, Kevin Payne out thought himself in 2008. The DC United team that won the Supporters Shield in 2007 and was one fluke goalkeeping mistake away from possibly advancing to the finals of CONCACAF Champions Cup did not a radical overhaul.
DC United dominated MLS in the 2006 and 2007 Regular Seasons much as the club had done in the 1997 to 1999 period. This was done largely on the backs of South American players. (DC United won MLS Cup in 1996 but far from dominated the league: the dominance of DC United really began in the initial MLS Cup playoffs) But playoff failures led Payne and GM Dave Kasper to completely overhaul the team.
Some changes like at Goalkeeper were necessary. Troy Perkins left for Norway without giving the club adequate notice of his desire to purse a playing career in Europe. Otherwise, the moves were over the top and unnecessary. Brian Carrol was jettisoned as was Bobby Boswell. Front line depth was hurt by the salary cap. But the biggest move made by the club, the dumping Christian Gomez was completely unnecessary.
Gomez much like Marco Ethceverry in the late nineties dominated the league from his attacking midfield position. Playing the natural number ten role, Gomez needed United and United needed him. But for whatever reason, Payne and Kapser decided to dump Gomez and sign Gallardo, whose European club career had been decent and his national team career above average.
But not only was Gallardo injury prone, but he didn’t seem to mesh well on the pitch with his supporting cast. In hindsight, and despite what has happened to Gomez in Colorado since the English Manager Gary Smith took over, the moves never should have been made. Gomez was comfortable in United’s system, while the club and its tactics had to adjust to Gallardo’s different style.
With Gallardo’s move to River Plate, United has a chance to start over. It’s hard to believe we’re writing these words about the most legendary club in MLS History (indeed the only legendary club in MLS History), but the red and black more than anyone else needs a fresh start.