D.C. United. Big-time players in the summer transfer window. Let that one sink in for a second.
Transfer deadlines normally fall under one of two categories. The first is that clubs will make a bevy of moves, completely blow up their roster, or sign one player that will make everyone stop. The second is that they will do nothing, making non-noteworthy signing, or do a series of moves just pushing around money or draft picks. You know, the things that writers like to post under false names in the MLS Reddit feed to gin views and clicks.
For the better part of the last decade D.C. United has fallen in the latter category. The club’s conservative spending philosophy has pretty much meant that supporters would either get used to seeing a.) no moves or b.) role players be moved around. While other clubs have flashed the cash D.C., for better or worse, have stood firm.
That policy very clearly seems to be out the door now. Over the past week United have dramatically re-designed their club, signing Hungarian international Zoltan Stieber, Hoffenheim’s Russell Canouse, Bolivian International Bruno Miranda, and according to the Washington Post’s Steven Goff United States Men’s National Team and Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola. These moves, coupled with the trades Lamar Neagle and Bobby Boswell, have the team moving in a very different direction.
For many it was about time. The club currently finds themselves at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference Standings with a 5-14-4 record. While their 1-1 draw on Saturday against Toronto FC was certainly a notable performance it was also their first point in six matches. While United’s conservative approach has netted them results during the past three seasons this year appears to be the breaking point. Odds are that D.C. do not make the playoffs so it seems like the club finally decided it was time to rebuild. Oh, and apparently they are going to be moving to a new stadium next season.
So what do each of these moves for D.C. United? Let’s take a look!
In- Midfielder/Forward Bruno Miranda
Acquired: Loan agreement through the 2018 season with Universidad de Chile
We spoke a little bit about Miranda during last week’s pie in the sky D.C. United analysis piece (Boy, does that feel like a long time ago) but with all of the changes it bears a second look. The biggest change that impacts Miranda will be the Neagle trade. Without Neagle United coach Ben Olsen will be down one winger/forward a position that he has always coveted in the 4-4-2 or the 4-5-1. Lloyd Sam has had another productive season but is 32 years old. The addition of Arriola would likely mean that the winger position would be secured with Sam taking the other position. Patrick Nyarko may also get some time depending upon his recovery from a concussion sustained in practice in July.
Miranda may find more time at the forward position. Last season’s leading goal-scorer Patrick Mullins has struggled with injuries all season and mid-season signing DeShorn Brown has done an admirable job learning on the fly. All of this points to Miranda receiving significant minutes in the final few weeks of the season.
The one thing that will be interesting to see is how much time Olsen gives to Miranda to play alongside of Luciano Acosta. With the two Olsen might have the two fastest players in Major League Soccer and a dynamic 1-2 punch on the attack. But Miranda is 19 and Acosta is 23. One may expect D.C. to circle back at the forward position in the winter.
Out-Midfielder/Forward Lamar Neagle
Details: Traded to the Seattle Sounders in exchange for a fourth round 2018 MLS SuperDraft pick
Neagle had a pretty good 2016 campaign with United (9 goals in 31 appearances) but he seemed to be out of sync in 2017 (1 goal in 21 appearances). Normally a very accurate shooter Neagle did not have the same precision as he had in years past. His lone goal came off a penalty kick against the Vancouver Whitecaps in May. Neagle was also looking to move closer to home- he was from Federal Way in Washington and had three separate stints with the Sounders in the past. The move also cleared up a roster spot.
Out-Defender Bobby Boswell
Details: Traded to Atlanta United FC in exchange for a third pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft
A team and supporter favorite Boswell has been one of the club’s cornerstone players for years. Across two stints with the club Bowell made 198 appearances with United and will likely have a spot in the club’s Hall of Fame sooner rather than later. But he, along with the rest of the defense, has struggled in 2017. At 34 years old and at a salary of about $260,000 United needed to move him to open cap space and to see what they had on defense.
While Steve Birnbaum and Taylor Kemp’s spots are likely secured for next season, the club have a couple of different options at center-back and right-back. Sean Franklin, Kofi Opare and Jalen Robinson have all been featured at the position this season with varying degrees of success. Olsen seems to favor Opare given his aerial prowess, but at a certain point one would have to think Robinson, a Homegrown Player, would be given more than a passing glance at center-back. Olsen may also shift him to right-back to inevitably replace Franklin. The other major question is Nick De Leon who may be running out of chances.
In-Midfielder Zoltan Stieber
Details: Signed on a permanent transfer from FC Kaiserslauten
Ever since Perry Kitchen left United last year the club has desperately searched for a tough, physical midfielder that can also initiate the attack. Stieber has shown with both the Hungarian national team and with various club sides throughout Europe that he is more than capable of both. Watching him at the 2016 European Championships it is apparent that he is someone that can not only attacking sets with linking passes north and south to his teammates, but is also unafraid of driving at opponents. The Hungarian style has long since drifted from the creative, free-flowing style of Ferenc Puskas into a much more practical, physical style. It is not always pretty, but effective. Anyone who has watched an Olsen-coached side over the past decade knows that fits in perfectly with his mindset.
Stieber will be gone for some time this fall with Hungary, who are longshots to qualify for the 2018 World Cup (they trail second place Portugal by eight points with four games to play) but should be given ample time to adjust Major League Soccer. D.C. have lacked the right player to serve as the link between Birnbaum and Acosta. If Stieber can provide this he will break the club’s less-than-stellar history with European players.
In-Midfielder Russell Canouse
Details: Signed on a permanent transfer from TSG Hoffenheim
Another midfielder that can either play center-mid or d-mid. Why it is almost as if there is a pattern here. Canouse has been one of those guys that U.S. Soccer fans have heard of read of in one of the eight million ‘Yanks Abroad’ articles. Although he did make one Bundesliga appearance for Hoffenheim he has spent most of his time in Europe with their reserve team. He did however get some minutes at a more advanced level last season while on loan with VFL Bochum in the German second division. With Bochum Canouse made 20 appearances and scored one goal, helping the side avoid relegation and finish comfortably in ninth place.
Having watched Canouse with the United States under-20 side at the 2015 CONCACAF under-20 Championship what was apparent is that he is very comfortable directly engaging attackers. He was always able to read what strikers were attempting to do and either impede their progress or make a quality challenge in open space. His passing was not always sharp but from all indications out Germany that is something that he has worked on. With D.C. he will have a chance to show what he can do with consistent minutes and the chance to play an important role in organizing a midfielder. United are very much going with a younger side entering into 2018 and Canouse will have a good chance at earning starting minutes.
In(Presumably)- Winger Paul Arriola
Details-Reportedly on a full transfer from Tijuana
This move was perhaps the most shocking of all of D.C.’s transfers. There had been some rumblings that Arriola may be on the move from Tijuana but nothing concrete had arisen. Arriola has spent his entire five year professional career with Xolos and became a fan favorite at the Estadio Caliente. His love for the club was also very apparent from his post on Twitter earlier this evening:
— Paul Arriola (@PaulArriola) August 10, 2017
As with Stieber and Miranda Arriola can play multiple positions in the midfield. With Xolos and the USMNT he had his greatest success as a winger using his advantage in terms of speed and a good first touch to blow by opponents. While many winger like to give themselves two to two-and-a-half feet of space between them and the ball Arriola likes to keep it closer. With his ability to dribble in tight spaces and still retain possession that will come in handy for a D.C. United side that have struggled to create attacking chances on the counter-attack. Along with Acosta and Miranda D.C. may have found an attacking triumvirate to build around for the next 3-5 years.
The big question now is if he can find his scoring stroke. He scored just three goals with Xolos and has just two goal with the USMNT. D.C. doesn’t need him to score 20 goals a season but at a transfer fee of about $3 million dollars more will be expected of him on the attacking end. The good news is that Olsen likes to use his wingers in very progressive roles and they generally see spikes in their scoring totals. Nyarko, Neagle, and Sam are perfect examples of this.
The past week has been a whirlwind for D.C. United. After weeks and months of stagnation the club seems to have changed their course and their trajectory with a series of moves. After many years of bringing in short-term veteran fixes the club finally appears to be thinking long-term. Miranda (19), Stieber (28), Canouse (22), and Arriola (22) are all either entering or at the peak of their careers. D.C. is investing in the future and the idea that Audi Field can be a chance to move beyond some of the problems of their recent past. But flashy signings and stadiums are only a part of the plan. Results are the other part and Olsen now has a chance to actually manage a side with management looking into invest in the product. Expectations will change with this side and whether Olsen can adapt to these new circumstances will determine whether these exciting moves will pay off.