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D.C. United: Midfielders

As part of the Insider's series on United personnel heading into the signing/trading/drafting period, we take a look at the midfield:

Cristian Castillo: Salvadoran was acquired on loan from Mexican club Leon a few weeks ago and should make an immediate impact on the left flank with his touch, speed and finishing. He will also help the club's marketing efforts in the area's Salvadoran community.

Rodney Wallace: With Castillo's arrival, will the second-year standout from Maryland move to left back, a position some observers believe is his best long-term position? Perhaps. Wallace has the grace and quickness to join the attack from the back, but will need to tighten his defensive responsibilities.

Christian Gomez: United had hoped the Argentine's return to Washington last year would rekindle his fire after a lost season in Denver. To the club's disappointment, he could no longer beat defenders, nor burst into channels like he did between 2004 and '07. The option on his contract was not picked up, and at age 35, it's hard to see him returning under a new deal.

Santino Quaranta: Whether playing on the flanks or the frontline, he was United's best player much of last season. Tino also emerged as a natural leader, vocal and passionate, and could fill that important role vacated by the retired Ben Olsen.

Fred: A Brazilian attacker who produced four league goals and eight assists the past two seasons (46 appearances)? Not good enough, especially after contributing seven goals and eight assists in 2007. United is keeping the faith, though, and exercised the option on his contract. He will be tested in central midfield (assuming Gomez does not return) after serving primarily on the flanks.

Clyde Simms: Voted the team's most valuable player, Simms was a mainstay in defensive midfield and filled in on the backline. He's a reliable two-way contributor, but with Olsen gone, will need to add bite to his game and cover more ground if United locks into a 4-4-2.

Danny Szetela: Promising young player arrived from Italy's second division, but almost immediately put himself into the club's doghouse because of personal issues. He seems to have a future with United, though his best position -- deep midfield, flanks, attacking -- is difficult to define.

Tiyi Shipalane: Late-season acquistion on loan from Harrisburg appeared in three Champions League matches and was signed by United after the season. A fleet-footed option for the flanks.

Brandon Barklage: Rookie season was cut short by a severe knee injury, but the club likes his industrious nature.

John DiRaimondo: Another working-class midfielder who made eight appearances in all competitions last year. He has been invited to training camp and will attempt to earn a contract.

Ben Olsen: Retired after 12 seasons and accepted an assistant's role on Curt Onalfo's coaching staff.

Andrew Jacobson: Claimed by Philadelphia in the expansion draft after making 17 league appearances (eight starts) without a goal or assist last year.

Ely Allen: Waiving after the season.

While United explores the international market to bolster the midfield, it might have a chance to claim one of the elite college players with the No. 7 overall pick in Thursday's draft. The group includes, among others, Wake Forest's Corben Bone, Virginia's Tony Tchani, Connecticut's Toni Stahl and Akron's Blair Gavin.

By Steve Goff  |  January 11, 2010; 2:47 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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Next: MLS Coaching Roots


How is Quaranta's foot?

Posted by: OWNTF | January 11, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Not much was said about Barklage after his season ending injury; it's almost like he fell into a black hole. I was pretty impressed with him when I did see him play and I hope he gets a solid shot at the starting XI.

Posted by: SportzNut21 | January 11, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Lots of questions in this group. First for me is who will step up and become something resembling a #10. Right now, I don't see it.

Castillo is now our best mid, on paper. Will he pan out?

Tino needs to put his head down, stop throwing up his hands, and step up into a true leadership role.

Fred needs to clear his mind and learn to love the game again.

Szetz needs to be given an opportunity by Onalfo.

And we need some reserves to step in and add some quality punch. I don't see anyone coming off the bench that can be relied upon.

Posted by: delantero | January 11, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Can someone (Goff maybe) shed some light on the personal issues that put Szetela in Soehn's dog house for so long? Since Soehn's gone, I would assume Goff can now speak freely. Or did I miss a blog post?

Posted by: tundey | January 11, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

BTW, typo in the Fred bit (eight assists, not seasons).

Getting Barklage back, along with playing Szetela, could be huge improvement. I'm sure Danny was relieved that Soehn left.

Posted by: Reignking | January 11, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Who says this team HAS to play with a #10? I know it's been a United tradition, but lets be honest, MLS is changing and United and their style of play is quickly becoming antiquated.

Yes, there are still a number of good #10 types left in MLS, but they cost a ton of money to get.

I would really like to see United play with two central midfielders who can both play two-way. Between Simms, Fred and Szetela they can get this accomplished. I've been known to rip Fred ten ways from Sunday, but I definitely see his useful skill. And he actually did a decent bit of defending this past year. Put him in central midfield with either Simms or Szetela and this teams willingness to move through the final third increases ten fold.

Posted by: ARickey | January 11, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Here is someone I'd like DCU to look at as a possible acquisition: Dave van den Bergh. Yeah, I's more likely he goes to NYRB. But he's out for FCD. And yeah, I know he's a left-sided midfielder. But here's my take on him:
--he'd give us a higher workrate and better defense and overall team play than Christian Gomez ever gave us at any point in his career (and I'm a long time fan of Christian Gomez).
--his knowledge of MLS, his ability to spray balls, his educated left foot, his pedigree (former Dutch NT player), I don't see a problem with him adjusting to the #10 spot. He's not going to score a lot. But outside his lack of speed becomes an issue against some teams. As a #10 it's not so much a factor.
--imagine van den Bergh as a deep #10 (much like Pirlo or Reyna or Dooley when he first played for the US) where you're looking for a creator to hit long thru-balls rather than beat guys off the dribble and then be there to clog the middle and play close to your D-mid. van den Bergh could play that role very well.

Plus, FCD is open to trading the #5 spot in the draft. We could probably package 2-3 veteran players to get van den Bergh (who they've announced they're going to move) and the #5 pick.

And, it's probably totally unlikely to happen for a bunch of reasons. But I've always admired van den Bergh's intelligence and ability to just vivisect a defense with his passes, especially at key times. van den Bergh spraying balls to Quaranta and Pontius (who are both willing to make runs off the ball) would be a sight to see. Not such traditional latin ball but very Dutch-like.

Posted by: JoeW1 | January 11, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Not much was said about Barklage after his season ending injury; it's almost like he fell into a black hole. I was pretty impressed with him when I did see him play and I hope he gets a solid shot at the starting XI.

Posted by: SportzNut21 | January 11, 2010 3:11 PM

What should have been said? His season was over? An ACL tear is a black hole. Frankly, it's optimistic to think he'll be ready to play at the start of the season, much less have a spot in the starting XI.

I wish I could be more optimistic here. I don't expect much from Fred any more, especially in the middle. If he proves he can distribute, it will be a big, if very pleasant surprise. I'm not impressed with the depth, either -- unless we see more out of Szetela and Tiyi and Boyzzzzzzz than we did last year.

Unfortunately, Tchani is wowing 'em today. He'll be gone before DCU picks. My guess is that Bone will be gone, too. Stahl and Gavin may be a decent choice, but not one that blows you away. Gavin may have serious upside -- he rode the bench for most of his time at Wake, because of the talent ahead of him, but his scoring rate is mind-bogglingly good -- but, he's not the most experienced player. As for Stahl, the consensus is that Stahl may be the most MLS-ready --- which DCU needs -- but he's not the "star" Tchani and Bone appear to be.

Posted by: fischy | January 11, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it is the same as not giving up on Jason Campbell, but I haven't given up on Fred wither. I have always thought he is better in central midfield than on the flank. I think if given the responsibility of orchastrating the attack, he might actually take on the responsibility and make himself better than many can imagine. I think he has the skill if he can only muster the desire.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | January 11, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Onalfo is the Fred Whisperer. I hope.

Posted by: OWNTF | January 11, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I think DCU will add someone in the MF depending on who is left in the draft. I would bet on Toni Stahl from UConn. It would be nice if Tchani fell into our laps, but it looks like he is a top 3 pick from his play at the combine.

Posted by: no_recess | January 11, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't care who you bring in or let go, the biggest concern this year with our midfield has to be health.

Can the DCU training staff keep our guys healthy without multiple hamstring pulls or hernias!?

Not sure where you'll find a stat on this but I'd put solid money on United players missing more time over the past 2 years than any other team. Yes, you can blame travel and excessive games, but at some point the players just have to be able to make it through. Since it is a problem across the board and not just a few players, for me, that's a problem with training technique and regimen.

Posted by: inzzo79 | January 11, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Mctavish still around?

For the draft, I say we gamble. I mean, drafting is always a gamble anyway, might as well look for the greatest upside. I'm thinking a Pontius McInerney frontline might be interesting (Pontius with the strength and hold up, the youngster with the striking technique). I definitely think this kid has potential, as we're almost definitely looking elsewhere for a starting forward, oversees or to Jaime.

I agree with ARickey on the #10 situation, it has held us back for several seasons now; even when Gomez was at his peak, our wins and losses depended on his relative performance on any given match.

Disagree with JoeW1, have no idea why we would get van der Bergh. We've got players who can cross, and two left midfielders, and he's old as heck to boot. New York would be a much more fitting situation; he'd balance out with Richards.

Posted by: UnitedDemon | January 11, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure how well Fred dealt with his personal matters, but even in the 2008 season he had turn-over problems. He's not the fastest player on the field, so on the wing defenders were able to close him down pretty quickly. He does have some quickness which can help him in the center of the field, but it really depends on how the players around him get open for passes.

Posted by: TCompton | January 11, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I don't care who you bring in or let go, the biggest concern this year with our midfield has to be health.

Posted by: inzzo79

Are you referring to 2008? Because 2009 wasn't bad at all.

Posted by: Reignking | January 11, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Oops -- I had Gavin confused in my mind with Schilawski. Gavin is the Akron midfielder who looked decent during the Cup.

Posted by: fischy | January 11, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I smell play-off games this season...

Posted by: TheWashDipsSince88 | January 11, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

@uniteddemon- I like McInerny but i feel like he'll be a reach at the #7 pick (he's only 17 and super raw) but maybe if we could get a late 1st round or early 2nd round pick he would be a good choice.

My outside the box idea- trade Simms for a solid MLS center back to pair with Jakovic and draft one of Tchnai, Stahl or Gavin. Szetala and the new draftee could take over DM and our defense would be massivly improved.

Note- I have no idea who this solid center back would be- I'm not that familiar wtih other MLS teams rosters.

And I love Simms, but you have to give value to get value.

Posted by: laur84 | January 11, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I've always admired Van den Bergh's play, and he might do quite well in the middle, but I agree that we don't necessarily need a classic #10 to prosper in this league. I would prefer that we not try to funnel the attack through one particular player in center midfield, but alter the attack to fit the situation. Even if Santino and Pontius are paired up front you can be sure that one of them will come back for the ball and look for the final killer pass. That's what they do well.

Posted by: b18bolo | January 11, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Did I "miss read" that or does it say "eight seasons in 2007" ;-)

Posted by: spikeman | January 11, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't mind seeing two, two-way central midfielders - as long as Simms isn't one of them. He does not contribute much to the attack. It can work, so long as you are getting quality contributions from the outside mids. This could work with Castillo and Quaranta outside.

Posted by: Senor_Funk | January 11, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Castillo & Wallace- I’d love to see Castillo on the left w/ Wallace behind him (permanently, so he can learn the position well). With their speed & Wallace’s offensive skills, they could be potent going forward.

Simms- needing to add bite to his game. BULLSEYE.

Fred- New season, new coach, last chance. He certainly wasn’t playing at the $225,000 - $257,000 level last season.

Tino –I’m not as certain as Goff how good Tino was last season; last year was screwy with United never having the same lineup twice. At 25 and with his life on track, you might say this season we find out if Tino’s game will rise to new heights or if he’s about topped out.

Szetela- Has a lot potential, seems the problems are in his head. (none of us had such issues at 22, right?) New season, new coach, another chance to catch fire.

Brandon Barklage – Good luck!

Shipalane- Fast, but I don’t see him developing into a solid all around, reliable player.

DiRaimondo – Uh, no.

Bennie & Christian- Thank you!

McTavish was previously covered under defenders.

Posted by: KireDCU | January 11, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Off topic: Does anyone know of bars in the area which are showing the African Cup?

Posted by: Tenleytown1 | January 11, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse


The depth is where I'd be concerned here, too. It's not that Khumalo or Shipalane aren't capable of doing well, it's that you never know what you're going to get.


I don't think the traditional DC approach is antiquated at all. The problem for us has been that we've been doing it poorly, and any style of play done poorly leads to bad results.

I'm not saying we absolutely must stick with the Etch/Gomez/Gallardo/Gomez II approach. There are plenty of ways to play good attacking soccer with any set of players that meet a certain technical level. I just don't think the playmaker option should be discarded because we did a poor job of executing it under an old coach with guys that aren't here or won't be soon enough.


I like Van den Bergh as a player, but he's played centrally before and didn't approach the game like a #10 at all. He focused on his work rate and starting positions (offensively and defensively) more than anything else. To me, you don't sign a natural left midfielder like Van den Bergh this late in his career and ask him to play some other role.

The fact that no one in MLS seems to make room for him is a shame, but once we signed Castillo our ability to find a place for him on the field vanished.


I think we'll see more from Szetela. Soehn both misused him and didn't seem to like him on a personal level, which made any chance of Szetela settling in here a long shot.

The problem with taking Stahl is that, to start him, we either have to bench Simms (not happening) or play 2 defensive midfielders (probably not happening). I think if we're not taking Tchani, we're not getting any central midfielders from the draft.


Your solid money would soon be someone else's, then. Chivas carried like 10 players out at any given time under Preki, and New England wasn't far behind. The idea that we have an above average injury load should have ended the moment the 2008 season was over. This is one of many myths floating around this team right now.

On the plus side, Onalfo has some sort of specialized fitness-tracking system that, he claims, kept his Wizards as fit as anyone in MLS.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | January 11, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

75 days until United's first 2010 league match!

Posted by: Curious99 | January 11, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Here's what I think of the actual players we have:

Castillo - High hopes. He's got the tools to do the job, and we've seen him play at a very high level internationally. If he can adapt to MLS, we could have one of the top left midfielders in the league.

Wallace - Needs to be on the field, and if Castillo settles, then Wallace is the left back. His positional defending will probably be around Burch's level, but he's faster, more dynamic, less prone to the diving "give me a red card" tackle and not so predictable. We'll also probably see Wallace centrally a few times when needed.

Gomez - Thanks for your service. The loss of that quick first step has given MLS defenders time to bridge the gap in terms of speed of thought. If he could be kept at a low cost, I'd be interested (as a late sub?), but with Moreno in place and Gomez being unlikely to take less, that isn't happening.

Quaranta - There were stretches last season where the team was poor and Quaranta was trying to carry us by himself. There were also stretches where he just didn't have it. He'll need to work on getting more end product out of his endeavor, but he's still in the top 5 at his position in MLS.

Fred - I can see why Onalfo wants him around, though not why he wants to look at him centrally. I would have preferred a renegotiated deal for less. Still, we all know he's got bags of skill; it's just a matter of whether he uses it at the right time, or to dribble into yet another crowd. Personally, I can't see him being more than an oft-used sub/occasional starter.

Simms - Good, reliable player. I'd echo Goff's opinion as far as bite and dynamism goes, but we will have an awfully hard time doing better.

Szetela - Used in a central, two-way role, he could be a very good player (given the lack of options currently here, he's who I'd start alongside Simms if United had a game tomorrow). Hopefully Onalfo will see that he's not a wide player and will have a better relationship with him than Soehn did. I'd rather not go into the season needing to start him, but he could be a high-quality sub that we have no problem with starting when needed.

Shipalane: At a low price, you've got to roll the dice on him. That kind of speed is rare (especially around here). Our other wide men all like to cut in, while Shipalane is more direct. If he can come up with even half-decent crosses (low or high), he could become the ace up Onalfo's sleeve.

Barklage - I like his potential, but it remains to be seen how he'll recover from the ACL tear. He can also play both centrally and wide, which is a plus. This team is lacking in aggressive players, so I'm hoping he can play some part for us.

DiRaimondo - Probably our hardest midfielder, but he's only so-so overall. If we pick up a defensive midfielder in the draft, it's hard to imagine DiRaimondo staying aboard.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | January 11, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

I thought Groundskeeper Willie was from North Kilt Town.

Posted by: BooThisMan | January 11, 2010 1:36 PM

You nailed it. And when he finally cashes in his retirement-grease he's gonna move back there.

Just remember, there's no Angus McCloud in North Kilt Town.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | January 11, 2010 2:40 PM

Onalfo should adopt the "You thievin' grease bandits! I'll kill ya!" attitude to motivate the lads during practice.

Posted by: Brother_of_Poopy_McPoop | January 11, 2010 4:32 PM

Just as long as he, at least once a practice, chases after his players and once chasing one down, says to said player, "Not so fast boy-o! Well, if it was up to me, I'd let ya go. But the
lads have a temper, and they've been drinkin' all day!"

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | January 11, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

On 2nd thought, maybe Onalfo and his Willie-like actions should be directed at the opposing team instead of our own. Yeah, that'll do it.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | January 11, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Back when he was hurt, the team said Q might be out 4-6 months, maybe missing the pre-season. Any updates?

Posted by: OWNTF | January 11, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

If Goff reported on this already forgive me, but has anyone said how long the Castillo loan deal is for? I have never heard if he is signed for the season, through June, 1 game, etc. Hopefully we can keep him around for awhile.

Posted by: JaimeSegundo | January 11, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm just hoping that Rodney Wallace starts to use his right foot for something other than the peg he stands on in order to exclusively use his left foot for all soccer-related activities......who does he think he is, Mark Burch?

Posted by: marksman37 | January 11, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

come to think of it, burch and wallace would be awesome at the three-legged race at the firm picnic

Posted by: OWNTF | January 11, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Fred is a good addition to this team and I am rather surprised DC United took the option on his contract. Emilio is about 10x better than Fred and I think DCU will be worse off without Emilio there. I'd prefer Gomez to Fred. I bet it'll be Castillo, Quaranta, Szetela, and Simms starting in Midfield by July 4th.

Posted by: diego_r | January 11, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

There are some videos on Behind the Badge with Tino and Brandon where they both reference their progress with rehab. Quaranta seemed very optimistic, and I'd guess his clean and sober life style will probably have a positive effect on his efforts. It's hard to heal when you're wasted. Take it from me...;)

Posted by: DadRyan | January 11, 2010 10:35 PM | Report abuse

@Chest -- I think the starting midfield is probably set, unless Fred flames out...or, there is a big signing, or there is an injury. Castillo -- Fred -- Simms -- Quaranta.

Stahl, if he's as MLS-ready as the writers claim, would give us much needed back-up, if Simms should go down. In a couple of years, he might be ready to hold down that DM slot. I'd love it if we could get an attacking mid like Tchani or Bone, but they'll be gone. Perhaps DCU was impressed by da Luz, Duka or the kid, Okugo. I wouldn't be disappointed to see any of that trio in the fold.

Posted by: fischy | January 11, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Tchani will have a horrendous conclusion to the combine, and fall down to 7th pick. I'd like that

Posted by: carmines757 | January 12, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

I hope we don't take another "versatile" player in the draft. Find someone who is a flat out goal scorer, a hard-nosed central midfielder, or an athletic defender. Part of the problem under the previous regime was trying to move people all over the place. Is Pontius a forward or a midfielder? What is Tino's position? Szetela? Wallace? Even Moreno was moved around. Let cohesion emerge with the first-unit group, and add guys on who can contribute specific things to matches when they come in as reserves.

Posted by: rcdwriting | January 12, 2010 6:12 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps there are four serviceable midfielders in this group, capable of playing together effectively, but it's not obvious who they are or where they should play. My gut instinct is that all this assemblage demonstrates is the DCU front office's incompetence. Acquiring players as if they were playing cards, without regard to how their strengths relate to the nature of MLS play (see Castillo) or how they relate to the intended style of play (does DCU actually have one?) leaves a team with just a bunch of warm bodies. I suspect that Soehn left in part because he was tired of being blamed for the front office's inability to acquire players who could succeed in MLS and could play together.

Posted by: Jphubba | January 12, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

DCU has done pretty well drafting very young talent: Convey, Quaranta, Mapp. We got more out of Adu than anyone else has. Our young picks have made it to the national team, even if they are not MNT regulars. If a player who is not ready to contribute right away isn't available, maybe this would be a good time to "reach" for a young talent that could become real quality in time. Maybe we need to start to build a real vision for the team.

Posted by: rcdwriting | January 12, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

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