(D.C. United)
(D.C. United)

D.C. United has loaned four players to its third-division affiliates, the Richmond Kickers:

Goalkeeper Joe Willis

Defender Jalen Robinson

Midfielder-forward Christiano Francois

Forward Michael Seaton

All four are eligible for recall at any time and others in need of competitive minutes will shuttle back and forth on I-95.

The Kickers, who finished atop the 2013 league standings before losing in the semifinals, will begin the season Saturday at Charleston. The home opener at City Stadium is April 5 against Pittsburgh. [Full schedule here]

What to make of these four players going on full-time assignment in USL Pro?

Willis, who has the best headshot in MLS, lost the No. 2 role to Andrew Dykstra in preseason — a surprising turn given Willis’s back-up status to Bill Hamid and 22 regular season league starts since arriving from the University of Denver in 2011. Dykstra, a former Osbourn Park High and Virginia Commonwealth University keeper in his third year in Washington, has not appeared in an MLS match since 2010 with the Chicago Fire. On loan, he anchored the Charleston Battery’s 2012 USL championship and won goalkeeper of the year honors in 2013 with the Kickers.

There never was much question about Robinson going to Richmond. The right back from Baltimore was a homegrown signing over the winter after two seasons at Wake Forest University. He is currently recovering from a hamstring injury suffered at the Carolina Challenge Cup.

Francois, an offseason signing from the University of Maryland, was also destined for Richmond. United is enamored with his raw ability and potential, but he needs regular minutes at a lower level before gaining first-team consideration.

Seaton, a 17-year-old forward in his second season as a homegrown, is the most intriguing of the quartet. He recorded five goals and an assist in 15 matches (11 starts) for the Kickers last year and has broken into the Jamaican senior national team. Not quite ready for first-team minutes, Seaton will continue to seek development at Richmond and eye periodic returns to Washington this season.

“Our first season as D.C. United’s official affiliate proved extremely beneficial to both clubs as the overall depth of our squad and on-field product improved while providing significant playing time for several of United’s younger players,” Kickers Coach Leigh Cowlishaw said. “Joe, Michael, Christiano and Jalen are great additions to our group and we look forward to them making a positive impact for our team while we build upon last season’s success.”

Others likely to receive spot duty in Richmond: defenders Steve Birnbaum (second overall pick in 2014 draft) and Conor Shanosky (2010 homegrown), and midfielder Collin Martin (2013 homegrown).

Seaton and Birnbaum scored in Richmond’s preseason finale last weekend, a 3-0 victory over the University of Virginia. [Video]

“Guys should be knocking down my door to go down to Richmond because if they are not playing here [in league matches], where are they playing?” Olsen said last week. “Where else are you going to prove you are ready to go into an 18 here?”

United notes: Former starting center back Brandon McDonald, who was traded to Real Salt Lake last summer, has signed with Ljungskile in Sweden’s second division.