Brandon McDonald (D.C. United photo) Brandon McDonald (D.C. United photo)

With a trade in the works, veteran center back Brandon McDonald flew to Utah from Washington on Monday and was ready to practice with Real Salt Lake. He just had to wait for the deal to go through.

On Wednesday morning, D.C. United made it official: The struggling club had dealt one of its most experienced players to MLS’s Western Conference leaders for two draft picks.

“Spiritually, I am still part of what is going on in D.C.,” he told the Insider in a phone conversation Wednesday night. “It’s a family. It’s something you don’t get too often in your career. It was a special time.”

But with playing time dwindling the past two months, McDonald approached United Coach Ben Olsen and General Manager Dave Kasper about exploring other options.

“We all knew I needed a fresh start,” he said. “There was no bad blood. It was all good. I wanted to stay and fight it out. I didn’t want to leave something unfinished, but I wasn’t playing either. I wanted to go somewhere I would play.”

McDonald, a cornerstone of last season’s drive to the Eastern finals, had faltered in multiple matches in the spring and had an emotional meltdown at halftime of a loss at Columbus.

He plummeted on the depth chart, falling behind young backs Ethan White and Conor Shanosky, and did not accompany the squad to Seattle and Denver for the two most recent league matches.

Real Salt Lake expressed interest a few weeks ago, McDonald said. United was eager to dump his $235,000 salary — fourth on the payroll behind Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Dejan Jakovic — and clear space for future moves. No MLS club would accept an out-of-form player at that rate, so United had to keep a portion of McDonald’s number on its books for the remainder of the season. United officials declined to reveal the financial breakdown.

McDonald will reunite with Real forward Robbie Findley — they were teammates at the Sereno youth club in Arizona that also included former MLS players Rob Valentino and Michael Gavin.

McDonald admitted the inactivity with United has left him short on fitness. But with Real understaffed on the backline because of injuries, he said he is prepared to play if needed Saturday night against visiting Sporting Kansas City.

McDonald wanted to retain his No. 4 jersey, but Aaron Maund has it. The next preferences were 14 and 7, but those were taken. He considered 77, but that was retired Andy Williams‘s former number. “He’s a legend around here!” McDonald said. So he chose No. 44.

United and RSL have already met in the regular season — a 1-0 DCU victory in March at RFK Stadium — but they could collide in the U.S. Open Cup final. (Both are semifinalists.) McDonald, however, is cup-tied to United after playing 27 minutes against Philadelphia in the round of 16.

“I’m going to miss D.C. — my friends, the organization, the fans, who deserve better than what we gave them this season,” he said after two years, mostly as a starter, with United. “This is a new beginning for me. I will help any way I can and try to help [RSL] win a championship.”