Yes, any club holding the top pick in any draft had darn sure better make some hay. D.C. United owned that top selection in Thursday’s MLS draft, so it may look like low-hanging fruit to circle the Black and Red as the day’s big winners.
But here’s the thing: Management at RFK Stadium turned up a way to squeeze more juice from this juicy orange, a pathway to the man they wanted plus some bonus allocation money in a trade. That’s like money for free, and that is very good business.
It’s especially good business during a draft that is a bit thin in most assessments. (There were two rounds Thursday and two more rounds set for tomorrow, but precious few players found in Major League Soccer’s later picks ever pan out in a big way.)
Andre Blake, the goalkeeper out of UConn, was considered the one of the real “can’t miss” guys, a talented individual who probably could have started last year in MLS had he not been completed his college days.
But United doesn’t need a goalkeeper. Bill Hamid, the No. 1 around RFK, may remain somewhat mistake-prone, but he’s fabulously talented and at 23 years old already about to be a four-year MLS starter. Rather, Ben Olsen’s team needed to keep shoring up that back line, which was simply dreadful in 2013. Washington Post veteran soccer writer Steven Goff reported that D.C. talked “trade” with Philadelphia, Vancouver and FC Dallas, taking those talks right up to the moment the camera lights turned red.
In the end, they dealt with Philly, probably gaining some assurances that the Union was taking Blake. In return for swapping spots (getting the Union’s No. 2 pick), United got some allocation money and kept themselves near the top of the draft board. (As always, allocation amounts attached to trades are a state secret.)
In taking Steve Birnbaum (pictured) with that No. 2 pick, United gets a guy who can start in MLS today, by almost every assessment, but won’t have to. United has a busy season ahead, with CONCACAF Champions League and a defense of the U.S. Open Cup, which is always important to the club, on the schedule. So in Birnbaum, they have a center back who can learn from presumed starter Bobby Boswell and occasionally spell the veteran, who turns 31 about the time the season opens.