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D.C. United is ‘closing in’ on Argentine midfielder Leonardo Gil

D.C. United has made significant strides in its bid to acquire Argentine midfielder Leonardo Gil on loan from Estudiantes, the Insider has learned.

United is “closing in,” a source familiar with the situation said.

The MLS club has been pursuing the 24-year-old central player throughout the offseason. Initial attempts failed because of financial differences, but United has apparently increased the offer to the Argentine Primera Division side. A deal would include an option for United to purchase the player after one season on loan.

The source cautioned that the sides have not struck a final agreement.

The club was also looking at a younger attacker at Estudiantes but wasn’t as confident in his capacity to make an immediate impact.

Per club policy, United officials have declined comment this winter on possible foreign acquisitions.

United has prioritized acquiring a playmaker from abroad to fill a glaring deficiency. Without an influential figure in central midfield, United labored to sustain an attack and generate high-quality scoring opportunities last season. In the 20-team league, D.C. was 19th in shots, 13th in goals, 17th in assists and regularly on the short end of possession time.

Often, United had to rely heavily on its grit and effort to manufacture goals and win games. Despite the attacking shortcomings, the club remained atop the Eastern Conference all summer before fading down the stretch and losing in the conference semifinals to the New York Red Bulls for the second straight year.

Gil would offer creativity, vision and technical skills. In recent starts for Estudiantes, he played deep centrally in a 4-2-3-1 alignment.

United employs a stable of flank players and forwards: Chris Rolfe, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio, Nick DeLeon, trade acquisitions Lamar Neagle and Patrick Nyarko, and second-year Miguel Aguilar. But the dearth of central options prompted the club to target players in South America and Europe this winter.

At the moment, the primary central cast is Davy Arnaud, who is 35 and recovering from a concussion; Markus Halsti, a Finnish national team player who did not meet expectations during an injury-marred first season; and first-round draft pick Julian Buescher.

Gil has been a regular with Estudiantes since transferring from Olimpo last January. In 2015, he made 16 starts and 21 appearances in league play. He also started nine matches in Copa Libertadores, the prestigious South American club tournament. In his 2016 debut Thursday, Gil entered in the 77th minute of a 4-2 victory over Racing in the Torneos de Verano preseason competition.

Gil is Argentine but also eligible, through lineage, to play for the Chilean national team.

Meantime, United is weighing its goalkeeping options in the aftermath of Bill Hamid’s knee injury. No timetable has been set, but one source said Hamid will need at least 12 weeks to fully recover. The club seems inclined to sign someone who has started regularly in MLS — several keepers were made available in the re-entry draft and remain unsigned — and also use returning back-up Andrew Dykstra.

United is slated to open training camp in Bradenton, Fla., on Jan. 23, move elsewhere in Florida in February and play about a half-dozen friendlies overall. The only game to be announced so far is Feb. 13 against the second-tier Tampa Bay Rowdies. Several northern European teams and MLS squads are also training in the Tampa area this winter.

Old video of Gil in action: