D.C. United has taken some major steps in improving its roster from the group that set records for MLS regular season futility in 2013, but Tuesday's trade with the Philadelphia Union raises eyebrows and all sorts of questions at a familiar time of year.
D.C. shipped 23-year-old homegrown center back Ethan White and the top spot in the league's allocation order -- used to acquire returning U.S. national team players or players returning to MLS after being sold for a transfer fee -- to regional rival Philadelphia Union in exchange for 31-year-old center back Jeff Parke and Philadelphia's sixth slot in the allocation order.
On the surface -- and it's always possible that there is more in play than what meets the eye -- it makes little sense for D.C. Parke is eight years older than White -- who emerged as one of the true positives in last season's campaign -- and made $216,500 according to MLS Players' Union documents. White, meanwhile, was on the books for $91,000 in guaranteed compensation.
As if that was not enough, D.C. is volunteering its spot first in line to acquire returning U.S. or past MLS talent, which, in case you haven't noticed, is becoming a recurring trend.
Now, in D.C.'s defense, Parke is a fine player in his own right, and the allocation order may not carry quite as much meaning as it had before, with certain DP deals allowing returning U.S. players (i.e. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley) to circumvent the mechanism. It's possible that D.C. has surveyed the landscape of potential allocation-order players and decided that maintaining the top spot -- a "reward" for having the league's worst record the previous season -- is not a priority, nor does it want to spent its available resources on that selection.
As for White, perhaps D.C. rates some of the collegiate defenders available in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft (Cal's Steve Birnbaum and Christian Dean among them) ahead of White and thinks that it is better off in the short term with Parke and in the long term by using its No. 1 overall draft pick on a college player available.
“It was a priority for us this offseason to shore up our defense. In Jeff, we have acquired a starting veteran center back who instantly upgrades our back line,” D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper, who has also added Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin this winer, said in a team statement. “Jeff has over 200 starts in MLS, and at 31, has many years to contribute to our team at a high level.”
Fair enough. But if a curious D.C.-Philadelphia pre-draft trade sounds familiar, it should. The last draft in Philadelphia, in 2010, was preceded by a lopsided deal between the two teams, with D.C. United trading midfielder Fred, the No. 7 overall pick and allocation money to Philadelphia for the top spot in the allocation order (which was used on goalkeeper Troy Perkins).
Philadelphia did not receive much out of Fred, but that No. 7 pick turned into rising star forward Jack McInerney, and D.C., which got all of one so-so season out of Perkins before shipping him to Portland, had been yearning for a reliable forward ever since before trading for Eddie Johnson this offseason. With the immediate fan reaction to the deal in social media being overwhelmingly skeptical, D.C. had better hope it avoids a case of pre-draft déjà vu.