Italian expatriates, Europhiles and casual soccer fans around the Washington, D.C., area are eagerly awaiting the arrival of AC Milan this week for Wednesday night’s international friendly against D.C. United.
United players and coaches, on the other hand, might be more interested to see if the illustrious Italian club leaves a few of its stars behind to help D.C. with what has, thus far, been a miserable MLS campaign.
As their 1-8-0 record suggests, D.C. have been found wanting in nearly every department this season, and while most of Milan’s millionaires might be out of United's price range, the club's brain trust will surely bring in reinforcements from abroad when the international summer transfer window opens. The main questions seem to be how much owner Will Chang – who has already been searching for additional investors to improve United’s financial picture – is willing to spend, and what positions are rated as the top priorities.
United readily admit that they’re scouring the world market, with technical director Chad Ashton having visited, or made plans to visit, South America, Africa and Europe in recent weeks.
“That’s what the profession calls for,” assistant coach Kris Kelderman last week said. “It’s a results-oriented business and you want to be the best that you can. At times you’ve got to be patient and at times you can’t afford to be patient—so there’s a fine line there—but we’re in a situation where anything is possible.”
The topic has not escaped the attention of the current squad, either.
You’re always, in the back of your mind, going, ‘[Expletive], now what’s going to happen?," goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. "Am I going to be gone before the first of July? Are they going to get rid of me?’ But at this point, you’ve just got to play for your life, play for your job, play for your paycheck.”
Having already become part of a neck-and-neck competition with young understudy Bill Hamid for the starting job, Perkins plays one of the few positions where D.C. will likely stand pat. But rumors are already swirling about the identity of the club’s top targets.
On Sunday the Washington Examiner reported that United are pursuing English striker Marlon Harewood, whose contract with Premier League side Aston Villa recently expired. Harewood just concluded a loan spell with freshly promoted club Newcastle United, and he might yet be tempted to stay in England, with United apparently needing to dangle designated-player-level wages in front of him in order to remain in the running.
A powerful, athletic frontrunner, Harewood’s skills set could go to good use in MLS, but United have several similar strikers already on their roster, and most of their matches have revealed a lack of the creativity and incision needed to supply service to such players. This season United have broken with tradition by largely playing without a central playmaker, and the experiment has had mixed results.
But maestros tend to be one of the most precious commodities on the open market. By way of example, Real Madrid’s mercurial midfielder José María Gutiérrez Hernández, better known as Guti, is out of contract and ready to leave his native Spain, but reportedly commands annual wages in the vicinity of $5-6 million, astronomical numbers for MLS clubs but eminently realistic for well-funded Middle Eastern clubs or interested Premier League outfits.
United general manager Dave Kasper has unearthed several South American gems during his tenure—as well as quite a few who failed to shine on U.S. shores—and whether it originates from the top shelf or bargain bin, another transfer coup would be welcomed during this hour of need.
“We’re trying to make the most of what we have, we’re trying to improve with what we have, but at the same time you’ve got to keep your eyes and ears open,” Kelderman said. “We’re looking for a little bit of everything right now.”