If any team
figured to take quick advantage of the greater liberty granted by MLS teams to sign international players, it would figure to be D.C. United. In his series examining MLS clubs' preseason maneuvers
and preparations, Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney
examines D.C. United's South American shopping spree
, which included the landing of Argentine World Cup veteran Marcelo
Limited in past seasons to four senior (25 and older) and three junior internationals, MLS teams can now sign up to eight of any age, and can trade for additional
slots if they wish.
At the rate D.C. is accruing them, a trade or two might come in handy. The net gain is four, with out-of-contract Christian Gomez
perhaps in a trade to another MLS team, or a transfer abroad.
Four were unveiled at training yesterday and today is the official introduction of Argentine midfielder Marcelo
, who not only gets his own media event a day after training began, he gets it at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The last major soccer figure to hold
court in that location was MLS Commissioner Don Garber
last November two days before MLS Cup 2007. But for the first Designated Player signed by the four-time MLS champion, the
setting is apropos.
By signing Gallardo as well as a fleet of newcomers while retaining Luciano Emilio
, D.C. United is intensifying its
quest to reach the championship game, which it has failed to do the past three seasons after winning the title in 2004.
Not coincidentally, defender Ryan Nelsen -- a native of New
Zealand -- left MLS after that game, and is now captain of Premier League club Blackburn.
Costly breakdowns in central defense have plagued D.C. since Nelsen's departure, and two of
the newcomers -- Gonzalo Peralta
and Gonzalo Martinez
-- will be tested as the new pairing. Franco Niell
will be tested as Emilio's
partner up front, and Jose Carvallo
-- who as a green-card holder doesn't count as an international player -- will get a crack at replacing goalkeeper Troy Perkins
who went to Norwegian club Valerenga in a $750,000 deal.
To land Perlata, Martinez and Neill, D.C. coach Tom Soehn
and general manager Dave Kasper
their scouting network and contacts that have netted Fred, Emilio, and Gomez the past few years.
The availability of Gallardo, released by French club Paris St. Germain, had been public
knowledge, but he was steered to MLS by Juan Pablo Angel
, a former teammate at River Plate.
To get Carvallo, they only needed to pick up the phone.
Carvallo calling on line one." Yes, Jose's mom called the D.C. offices.
"It's nice when things fall in your lap for a change, and credit to Jose's mother for contacting us," says Kasper.
"That's definitely the exception, not the rule, but we went through our normal process of identifying players ahead of the transfer window and then going and scouting them and meeting them, making
sure we could afford them."
The sale of Perkins netted D.C. about $500,000 under league policies by which teams receive two-thirds of the transfer fee, and it also received a cut of
the deal by which Bryan Arguez
went to Hertha Berlin for $350,000.
The league sets limits as to how much of its cut a team can use to acquire players but regardless
of the math, Kasper says the policies -- first implemented last year -- offer teams greater incentive to approve transfers.
The 2008 salary cap -- about $2.2 million -- doesn't go
very far in the modern market, but supplementing it with allocation money offers teams greater latitude to stock its 18-man roster with as much quality as possible.
"I think that's
been a great decision by the league, to let the teams get the lions' share of any transfer fee," says Kasper. "Getting back allocation money certainly serves as a motivation to develop your players
and put that money back into your team. You don't always want to sell your players, but sometimes there are opportunities that a player wants to take and now I think teams will probably be more
willing to listen to those offers.
"We're not like some clubs in the world that are strictly export teams. That's not our goal. We like to see our young players develop and move up on
our team, and move up to better contracts and stay with our club. That's something we want, but at the end of the day, those players that do get offers, you'll consider them a little more."