Soccer America
Wednesday January 30th, 2008

Limited in past seasons to four senior (25 and older) and three junior internationals, MLS teams can now sign up to eight of any age, and can trade for additional slots if they wish.

At the rate D.C. United is accruing them, a trade or two might come in handy. The net gain is four, with out-of-contract Christian Gómez making way, perhaps in a trade to another MLS team, or a transfer abroad.

Four were unveiled at training on Monday and Tuesday was the official introduction of Argentine midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, who not only got his own media event a day after training began, but also had it at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The last major soccer figure to hold court in that location was MLS Commissioner Don Garber last November two days before MLS Cup 2007. But for the first Designated Player signed by the four-time MLS champion, the setting is apropos.

By signing Gallardo as well as a fleet of newcomers while retaining Luciano Emilio and Fred, D.C. United is intensifying its quest to reach the championship game, which it has failed to do the past three seasons after winning the title in '04.

Not coincidentally, defender Ryan Nelsen -- a native of New Zealand -- left MLS after that game, and is now captain of Premier League club Blackburn.

Costly breakdowns in central defense have plagued D.C. since Nelsen's departure, and two of the newcomers -- Gonzalo Peralta and Gonzalo Martínez -- will be tested as the new pairing.

Franco Niell will be tested as Emilio's partner up front, and José Carvallo -- who as a green-card holder doesn't count as an international player -- will get a crack at replacing goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who went to Norwegian club Valerenga in a $750,000 deal.

To land Peralta, Martinez and Niell, D.C. coach Tom Soehn and general manager Dave Kasper worked their scouting network and contacts that have netted Fred, Emilio, and Gómez the past few years.

The availability of Gallardo, released by French club Paris St. Germain, had been public knowledge, but he was steered to MLS by Juan Pablo Ángel, a former teammate at River Plate.

To get Carvallo, they only needed to pick up the phone.

"Mrs. Carvallo calling on line one." Yes, José's mom called the D.C. offices.

"It's nice when things fall in your lap for a change, and credit to Jose's mother for contacting us," says Kasper. "That's definitely the exception, not the rule, but we went through our normal process of identifying players ahead of the transfer window and then going and scouting them and meeting them, making sure we could afford them."

The sale of Perkins netted D.C. about $500,000 under league policies by which teams receive two-thirds of the transfer fee, and it also received a cut of the deal by which Bryan Arguez went to Hertha Berlin for $350,000.

The league sets limits as to how much of its cut a team can use to acquire players but regardless of the math, Kasper says the policies -- first implemented last year -- offer teams greater incentive to approve transfers.

The '08 salary cap -- about $2.2 million -- doesn't go very far in the modern market, but supplementing it with allocation money offers teams greater latitude to stock its 18-man roster with as much quality as possible.

"I think that's been a great decision by the league, to let the teams get the lions' share of any transfer fee," says Kasper. "Getting back allocation money certainly serves as a motivation to develop your players and put that money back into your team. You don't always want to sell your players, but sometimes there are opportunities that a player wants to take and now I think teams will probably be more willing to listen to those offers.

"We're not like some clubs in the world that are strictly export teams. That's not our goal. We like to see our young players develop and move up on our team, and move up to better contracts and stay with our club. That's something we want, but at the end of the day, those players that do get offers, you'll consider them a little more."

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