The Richmond Kickers will serve as D.C. United’s affiliate, a deal that will facilitate full-time assignments for young MLS players in the U.S. third division. Thursday’s announcement comes a day after MLS and USL formed a partnership in an effort to improve player development.

The United-Kickers pact is for just one year “because we want to see how [the MLS-USL arrangement] evolves,” DCU General Manager Dave Kasper said. However, “we believe it’s something that can grow into a productive, long-term partnership.”

United will send at least four young players to Richmond for full-time training and league matches from March through August. The Kickers will open April 6 against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Richmond’s City Stadium. [Full schedule here.]

United also has the flexibility to send additional players on short-term assignments. Several MLS teams plan to enter affiliations with the 13 USL clubs. Players assigned to USL teams will continue to be paid by their MLS employers. The USL is on the third tier of the U.S. soccer pyramid, under MLS and the North American Soccer League.

Richmond Coach Leigh Cowlishaw is scheduled to join United in Orlando next month to observe training camp, Kasper said, but ultimately United will decide who will join the Kickers full-time. Those players will remain eligible for MLS matches.

Under the set-up, United will no longer field a team in MLS’s reserve league. The Kickers will play two games against the Vancouver Whitecaps’ reserve squad, with the results counting in the USL and reserve league standings.

“We’ve talked to Leigh for several years about a stronger partnership,” Kasper said. “We’ve worked with them in the past [sending players on loan] and we know they do things right. It’s a win-win.”

With Richmond just two hours away, United coaches and technical staff will be able to monitor players in training and matches.

According to United’s research, 18 DCU players have featured for the Kickers over the past 20 years either on loan or under contract, including Dwayne De Rosario, Clyde Simms, Richie Williams, Brian Carroll and Bryan Namoff. Last year, defender Ethan White and forward Long Tan went on periodic loans to Richmond.

In other United news:

*As reported on the Insider’s Twitter site Wednesday, goalkeeper Diego Restrepo was released from training camp to pursue an opportunity with the Philadelphia Union. With all three keepers from 2012 in camp soon, Restrepo had little chance of making the roster. He starred at the University of Virginia in 2009 and ’10, and played in the Colombian and Venezuelan first divisions the past two years.

*Evan Raynr, a UCLA midfielder selected in the supplemental draft Tuesday, has joined the club in Bradenton, Fla.

*United’s first preseason game is this Saturday at 11 a.m. against the Columbus Crew at IMG Academy. No streaming video is available.

*United and Philadelphia have agreed to a friendly Feb. 20 at Boster Sports Complex in Deltona, Fla. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. The game, which is open to the public, comes during the clubs’ stay in the Orlando area for the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, a preseason tournament.