- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

Marcelo Gallardo, D.C. United’s first designated player and the club’s most expensive signing, will not return.

“Marcelo is going back to Argentina to finish his career,” United general manager Dave Kasper said Friday. “We are releasing him from his obligations. He is free to finish his career down south.”

United paid Gallardo, 33, almost $1.9 million last season, but injuries limited the talented playmaker to four goals in 15 games. River Plate, the club with which he began his career, confirmed Gallardo will rejoin the team.

“I think that is good for him and for us that he ends his career in River,” senior team manager Jose Manuel Besteiro said in an e-mail. “It is the tradition that our icons end their career with our club.”

Gallardo signed a two-year contract with United a year ago. According to reports at the time, the club had wanted to sign Argentine midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, but that deal fell through. Gallardo came to United to take over the playmaking role from 2006 MVP Christian Gomez, whose contract was not renewed even though he earned 10 goals and nine assists in 27 games in 2007.

Veron was named South American footballer of the year last month.

United received glimpses of Gallardo’s talent, including a stunning goal in a 4-1 win against Real Salt Lake on April 26. The two-time World Cup midfielder was at his best during a six-game winning streak in the summer, including a 4-1 victory against David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy at RFK Stadium on June 29.

Then injuries changed everything. Gallardo was sidelined for much of the rest of the season with a stomach hernia, an abductor injury and finally a knee sprain, which ended his year in early October. Without him, United failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

“It’s disappointing,” Kasper said. “We were looking for him to come back and be healthy and spend a year here, but at the end of the day, he didn’t settle in the way we thought.”

Kasper would not say if the team would fill Gallardo’s designated spot.

“The coming weeks will answer that question,” he said.

Gallardo’s exit marks the end of United’s 2008 South American buying spree. All five players the team brought in at the start of last season - Gallardo, Gonzalo Peralta, Gonzalo Martinez, Jose Carvallo and Franco Niell - are no longer with the team.

“You can never predict the future of a player,” Kasper said.

He said 2008 was a poor year for new foreign talent in the league, with few overseas signings returning.

“Last year was a bad year,” he said. “The previous two years were good.”

Kasper said United will sign Brazilian defender Roger, who passed his physical. The club also is close to signing midfielder Andrew Jacobson, the team’s top draftee in 2008 who spurned the club to spend a season in France. Both players were at training Friday.

Notes - With Dutch goalie Edwin van der Sar in the nets, Manchester United broke Chelsea’s record with 11 successive shutouts in the Premier League, posting a 5-0 midweek win at West Bromwich. … Former D.C. United midfielder Bobby Convey is out of favor at Reading FC and appears to be headed back to the United States. The San Jose Earthquakes will have the first shot at Convey if he decides to return. …

Tickets for the U.S. team’s FIFA World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Feb. 11 in Columbus, Ohio, sold out in 90 minutes Thursday. … London’s Wembley Stadium will host the 2011 Champions League final.

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