Carrying on from our look at the goalkeepers and defenders in Part II, it's now time to address the midfield and forwards. Once again, note that I'm including the loanees and injured reserve guys in this roundup.
John DiRaimondo: With the limited roster sizes in MLS, you expect even your developmental players to contribute a little, particularly in the case of a team as busy as United was this season. In his limited minutes the 23-year old midfielder looked quick and lively, but was often dispossessed after holding the ball too long, hit easily intercepted passes, and generally didn't make much of an impression. If he wants to play for Dev Dollars and can beat out the assorted draftees and trialists in camp next spring, maybe he deserves another shot, but I think USL is looming in his future.
Danny Szetela: Conundrums wrapped in enigmas. Which Danny Szetela will show up for 2010? Was his lack of significant playing time Soehn's fault or his own? Will Nowak make us an offer we can't refuse in order to land him for PU? Considering his age (22), the potential suggested by his talent and performances for the youth national teams, and the fact that we don't have a lot of quality depth in central midfield, we need to protect him and/or get a pretty penny for him if Nowak does come knocking.
Ely Allen: From scraping the bottom of the USL2 barrel to scraping the bottom of the PDL, the FO's penchant for lower lower division players is unsettling. Time to let him find his proper level.
Tiyiselani Shipalane: He's quick, provides the kind of attacking width and speed that we generally lack, and can beat people on the dribble. Then again, his defending is limited, we plucked him from USL2 (first year in USL2, another PDL'er prior to 2009), and I don't know how much more developing he's going to at age 24. If he can learn to play flank defense, he might be useful, but he's a project, would need to be fully acquired from Harrisburg, and sucks up an international spot in the bargain. Another Janicki (promising, but ultimately found out) or another Boyzzz (useful, but limited)?
Brandon Barklage: Almost an afterthought in a draft tilted towards the opening rounds, Barklage was starting to make an impression when his season was cut short by injury. I'm assuming he'll get a shot in camp to prove that he should be back on the roster, but who knows. I wouldn't begrudge him the chance, nor do I think there is any danger of losing him to the expansion draft. Wait and see...
Fred: And herein we encounter our first potential high-cap casualty. Fred was fantastic in his first season, but posted disappointing numbers in the last two, scuffing numerous chances in the box and losing possession outside of it. So was that first season a fluke, or did injury and off-field issues conspire to keep him from building upon that early success? I know the knee-jerk reaction is to axe him, but of all our high-earning under-performers, he's currently the cheapest and youngest and probably still has the most left in his tank. I wonder if, given a season where he is only relied upon to attack, his contribution might improve. Tough call, and I know it will come as heresy to some and be seen as furious backpedalling by others, but I'm leaning towards keeping him, though negotiating a lower base salary with production incentives would seem to be prudent on the part of the FO.
Christian Gomez: Gomez posted reasonable numbers given the minutes he played this year, but I can't see us keeping him at his age and current salary. Would I entertain the notion of him sticking around for a drastically reduced salary? Yes. But I'm not sure how much more he has to give at 35. He never really looked like commanding games last year like he did in his first stint with United despite the offense often being geared to go through him. Given that evidence and the specter of Marco looming over the whole scenario, I can't see protecting him, and I don't think we'll see him in black and red next year.
Andrew Jacobson: No, he didn't have a particularly great debut season for United, but he did register some decent minutes, has good size and technique in tight spaces, gave glimpses of a howitzer-shot from distance, is young (24), and doesn't carry a big cap hit. I'd say that all of those points argue for at least a camp invite and probably a roster spot in 2010 as well. But are they enough to merit protecting him from the expansion draft? Probably not, though it would depend how many spots we have available after the core players have been protected.
Ben Olsen: The spirit is willing...but is spirit enough at his current salary? Olsen's sacred cow status as the "heart of the team" notwithstanding, he's 32 and pushing the limits of what his body has left to give. His contributions are mostly emotional at this point as he can't physically keep up with the speed of play or be counted on to be available week-in and week-out. Yet his positive influence on the team is undeniable. At the very least, he needs to become part of the coaching staff next year. At best, he should accept a lower salary as a player/coach, only part of which counts towards the cap, and be expected to provide spot cover and an emotional lift off the bench. Protect him? I don't think you do, but I might consider it if extra spots were available.
Chris Pontius: No questions here about his status for next year. Protect him from the expansion draft and give him a raise. Then move him from the "midfielders" portion of the official roster to the "forwards" portion and start the finishing drills with Coach Jaime. Four goals as a rookie who spent most of his time in midfield is good, but four goals from 56 shots, of which only 23 were on frame, isn't a good enough return. Here's hoping a year's seasoning and a consistent position on the field brings better numbers in 2010, because I don't think there's any doubt that Pontius is part of the "youth core" we need to be building around.
Santino Quaranta: Another no-brainer. Protect the Phoenix and pencil him in on the 2010 roster. The question is, where do you pencil him in? Is he a wide midfielder or a withdrawn forward? While I'm sure I wasn't the only one who noticed the excellent understanding between Tino and Pontius, I like the idea of an energetic speed guy playing off Pontius up top even more, and playing Tino on the flank doesn't keep him from setting the table for Pontius. Here's hoping for a little more patience from him in 2010, because all too often he seemed to be trying to do too much, conceding possession or squandering chances in good positions. At 25, he should be approaching his peak years.
Clyde Simms: Yes, he racks up a lot of minutes and covers a fair bit of ground, but I'm not entirely sold on the 27-year old. Of course, I'd still protect him from the draft, but I'd also be looking for more from Clyde in 2010, particularly in the passing department, where his first instincts are back and sideways and simple. In some ways, that's a positive in that it maintains possession. But it's also predictable and limiting. It wouldn't hurt to add a little bite to his defensive game and rediscover the Clydewinder Missile shot from outside the box as well.
Luciano Emilio: Like Fred, Emilio's 2008 and 2009 failed to live up to his breakout 2007. But unlike Fred, he's on big DP dollars, is about to turn 31, and seems to have lost a step. For a poacher-type finisher, losing a step hurts more than at many positions. Critics may argue that Emilio still managed to bang in 10 goals, but Juan Pablo Angel managed 12 on a miserable Red Bulls team that struggled for goals. That's DP production. And Moreno managed 9 in just over half the minutes that Emilio played. Unless a "no-trade" clause means we have to protect him, I think you've got to leave him exposed, not only because I don't think he'll be snapped up at his age and salary, but because I think he's done in DC. Bring on the forwards with energy and speed who look to close down the opposition and are quick enough to get behind the back line. Vive le youthquake!
Thabiso Khumalo: It's a shame about the injury and subsequent infection, because Boyzzz was beginning to have an impact on the team when he went down. That said, I don't think there's any way you put him on the protected list. If the Union want to come in for a 29-year old winger/forward who's spent almost the entirety of his career as a lower-division journeyman, they're welcome to him. I'd still like to see him in camp next year because he's cheap and can be an impact sub, but I'd like even more to have competition for the role of fourth forward and emergency winger (only when chasing a game, as he's precious little use on defense). Perhaps we already have said competition in the form of Shipalane?
Jaime Moreno: If you'd have asked me in the final weeks of the season, I'd have said it was time for Jaime to join the coaching staff and give up the playing ghost. But then I looked back and saw that he posted extremely respectable numbers in limited minutes. Even if his speed is gone, he still possesses the guile and composure in front of goal to be extremely dangerous if surrounded by energetic runners and workers (see Schelotto in Columbus). That said, he'll be 36 by the time a ball is kicked in anger next year, and there were times last year where you got the impression that he was that guy at the local pick-up game. You know, either latin or a Brit, a bit tubby, but a wizard on the ball and not afraid to show it, trying the outrageous even when it doesn't seem necessary. Only don't ask him to play defense...or run for passes...or even move around very much. Protect him? Possibly, depending upon how many slots we've used up. If he comes back next year, I don't think the limited minutes he'll play can justify his current salary, so, like Olsen, a player/coach split deal or salary reduction would seem to be in order.
Ange N'Silu: No way do you protect him. True, his minutes were limited last year, and in the first few outings he looked pretty promising. But as time passed, he looked increasingly disinterested and ineffective. If he gets invited back to camp and comes prepared to put in a strong effort, that's all well and good, but I would expect the FO to be shopping for some competition this off-season.
There are so many questions at the moment and precious little indication of which way the FO is leaning, much less what any prospective new coach might think. Do we stick with Emilio? Fred? Gomez? Moreno? Olsen? Will Szetela still be around come spring? Of the current players, I think you without a doubt protect Szetela, Pontius, Quaranta, and Simms, but beyond that it gets a little murky. I wouldn't even consider protecting Emilio and Gomez (unless the former's contract requires it) and would have to think really hard about Moreno and Olsen, but Fred might get my vote, particularly given that we need to protect a third international if the rules from 2008 hold.
Given the uncertainties, I think I'd pencil in Simms and Szetela in the middle with Jacobson and Olsen for depth, Quaranta on the right, and Pontius up top. We should definitely be scouting for a dynamic, quick striker to partner with Pontius, looking to Boyzzz or Shipalane as a backup for this notional new player, and possibly N'Silu as Pontius' backup.
The left wing is a larger question mark. Is this where Wallace's long-term future lies? Could Fred rediscover his form of 2007? Do we need to go shopping?
Next time out, we'll take a look at putting together a protected list (the core of the 2010 team) for Monday's expansion draft (hopefully we'll have some guidance on the rules by then), before concluding the Autopsy series with a rough draft of my annual What I Want For Christmas list.
See you then.