United looking to fill holes with draft

D.C. United's technical staff will make the brief trip north to Baltimore for Friday's MLS SuperDraft with a short supply of picks, but a long-range view towards identifying talent for the future.

"Coming off a championship season, we're happy with our team," said technical director Dave Kasper. "We didn't want to lose anybody. We would have been quite happy walking into this year with everyone back but unfortunately, that's not a reality, having already lost several players already."

Though largely content with their roster, United are determined to plug these newly-opened holes in the roster while adding some promising youngsters. Veteran leaders Ryan Nelsen and Earnie Stewart, recently departed for Europe, leave the biggest gaps, though Kevin Ara, Ezra Hendrickson and Thiago Martins were also lost in the expansion draft.

Kasper and other team officials have cast a wide net in search of experienced replacements, especially for Nelsen -- widely considered MLS' best defender last year -- and expect to use a senior international slot or allocation to fill the central defender position.

With only two draft picks (Nos. 19 and 48), United likely won't be the busiest club at Baltimore's waterfront convention center on Friday, due in large part to last season's trade with the MetroStars to re-acquire striker Jaime Moreno. Clearly, Kasper has no regrets about grabbing the Bolivian, whom he -- along with many MLS observers -- rates as the league MVP of 2004.

"We traded away our first pick this year and we got Jaime Moreno," said Kasper, "and I think that's a good trade. Any GM would do that trade in a heartbeat."

The new MLS reserve league figures prominently in United's thinking, offering a proving ground for the promising college players who dominate this year's SuperDraft.

"You always want to look to the future and develop players, and that's really what the reserve league is going to be about, to give these young players more playing time," said Kasper. "We are always looking to be as good as we can in the short term, but also keeping an eye on the long term."

Each draft uncovers surprise stars, though, and Kasper reckons that there may be a few selections who could contribute to their new squad's first eleven immediately.

"I would say that there are a handful of players that can step in [and be MLS starters]," he said. "Look at Josh Gros, a fourth-round pick last year, and Troy Perkins, not even selected. We saw something in them, and they came in and became starting players."

United have a history of looking close to home for quality draft selections, with local boys Brian Carroll, David Stokes and Freddy Adu on the current roster, and University of Virginia products Ben Olsen and Alecko Eskandarian filling vital roles for the MLS Cup champs.

But Kasper insists that geography has much less to do with personnel choices than technical ability and style of play. He's more coy about the elite-level college program just across town at the University of Maryland, whose 2004 NCAA semifinal performance resulted in four players invited to the MLS Combine, more than any other school.

"It's always a bonus if you can draft a player with local ties, but we don't draft a player just because he's from the D.C. metro area," said Kasper. "I don't want to comment on any players we might choose, other than the fact that Maryland did have four players at the combine. We've watched Maryland quite closely this year, and we've had the chance to compare them with other players out in L.A."

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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