- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

After a disappointing 2008 season in which D.C. United failed to make the league playoffs for the first time since 2002, the club finds itself in an unfamiliar spot entering Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft in St. Louis. Unlike previous years, United will be in the action early with two picks in the top 10.

United has five of the first 36 picks, and shoring up its defense appears to be the primary focus. The club has the sixth and seventh picks in the first round and Nos. 21 and 26 in the second round. The club gained the No. 7 and No. 26 picks in trades with Colorado and Houston, respectively.

“Since 2004 we haven’t been higher than 12 in our picks, so this one is important,” United general manager Dave Kasper said. “There are some real solid prospects in this draft, and we hope to come away with five good players.”

United is in need of defenders. The club did not renew its option on defender Gonzalo Peralta, who opted to return to Argentina. The status of Gonzalo Martinez remains uncertain, but the club has re-signed defenders Bryan Namoff, Marc Burch and Devon McTavish in recent weeks.

“There are some good defenders, but we have to see what’s left by the sixth pick,” Kasper said.

United could bring in a goalie to challenge third-stringer James Thorpe, who will be seeking to earn a new contract. The club also could use a striker.

Maryland defender Omar Gonzalez and Indiana defender Kevin Alston - a native of Silver Spring - are likely targets for United but could be taken early.

United’s coaching staff was at the MLS combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., earlier this week scouting potential draftees.

Along with Gonzalez, former Maryland midfielder Jeremy Hall and defender Rodney Wallace are projected as early picks.

Goalie Stefan Frei (California), defender Sheanon Williams (North Carolina), midfielders Baggio Husidic (Illinois-Chicago) and Sam Cronin (Wake Forest) and forward Steve Zakuani (Akron) are also highly touted prospects at the draft.

United has had little luck in recent drafts. The team’s top pick last year was Cal midfielder Andrew Jacobson (24th pick), who spurned the club and signed with a French team. Only one of United’s picks from 2008 - forward Ryan Cordeiro (33rd pick) - had any impact on the team, and even that was minimal. He appeared in eight games and made just one start.

“The draft is about giving players the opportunity, but they have to work to make the team,” Kasper said.

The expansion Seattle Sounders have the top pick. The draft includes four rounds with 60 total selections.

Last year’s overall top pick was UCLA defender Chance Myers, who played 10 games (seven starts) for the Kansas City Wizards.

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