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D.C. United trades out of MLS draft with eye on players that ‘can help us in a bigger way’

Tristan Blackmon, with MLS Commissioner Don Garber, was taken with the third overall pick that Los Angeles FC acquired from United. (Derik Hamilton/USA Today Sports)
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PHILADELPHIA — D.C. United’s draft day ended before it began Friday as the club traded the No. 3 overall pick to Los Angeles FC for $200,000 worth of allocation money several hours before the festivities began. The club plans to apply those funds toward acquiring an attacker and perhaps an outside defender from Latin America.

D.C. received $100,000 in general allocation money and $100,000 in targeted allocation money from LAFC, an expansion team that also had the No. 1 pick in the draft. Last week, United collected $100,000 in general and $200,000 in targeted from the Los Angeles Galaxy for midfielder Perry Kitchen’s rights.

“It’s no disrespect to the college game, but there are some other guys that we think can help us in a bigger way, in a more immediate way in the next week or two,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “And every dollar counts in getting these types of deals over the line.”

U.S. pro sports leagues love their drafts. But in MLS, it’s losing importance.

Olsen and General Manager Dave Kasper declined to identify the targeted players. But with training camp opening Monday and the season opener six weeks away, the club is aiming to finalize deals soon.

“We have resources available to make one or two more international signings” this preseason, Kasper said. “These funds will certainly help in that regard.”

United will also have targeted allocation money available to perhaps sign an additional player in the summer transfer window when there are more options, he added.

United would need to acquire international roster slots to accommodate players from abroad, but with one or two current members set to receive green cards soon, “it’s not going to be a problem,” Kasper said.

In relinquishing the No. 3 pick, Kasper said, United weighed “acquiring more than likely an international [college] player and sending him on loan versus using money to acquire a piece that is ready to help us now.”

United did not have a second-round pick, having dealt it to Vancouver last week for goalkeeper David Ousted. MLS will conduct the final two rounds of the draft by conference call Sunday. United has three remaining selections, but the last half of the draft rarely yields players who make first-team rosters.

Last year, in a pre-draft move, New York City FC acquired the No. 3 overall selection from the Chicago Fire for $250,000 in general allocation money and chose Akron midfielder Jonathan Lewis, who went on to play in 11 regular season matches (four starts) and post two goals and one assist. This year’s draft pool, though, was not considered as strong as last year’s.

General allocation money can be applied toward, among other things, signing players and softening the impact of a contract on the salary cap. Targeted allocation money can be used in multiple ways as well but only on players making between $500,000 and $1 million. It’s unclear how much of the two categories United has stockpiled during the offseason.

This season, D.C. is using targeted allocation money on defender Steve Birnbaum and midfielders Luciano Acosta and Zoltan Stieber. Midfielder Paul Arriola is United’s only designated player, a term used for high-priced talent that falls outside standard payroll guidelines. Each team is allowed three DPs, but in all likelihood, United will not sign any this winter or summer.

United has already acquired five players this offseason: Ousted, the Danish goalkeeper; French defender Frederic Brillant; Costa Rican midfielder Ulises Segura; Venezuelan midfielder Junior Moreno; and Jamaican forward Darren Mattocks. Ousted (Vancouver), Brillant (New York City FC) and Mattocks (Portland) arrived via trades.

“We still have some open spots on the roster,” Olsen said, “and we have a little money to play with.”

With a brief preseason, United would like to finalize signings soon. It also plans to invite at least one veteran MLS player who was not selected in the reentry draft to training camp.

“It’s important because of how new the group is,” Olsen said. “The more we can get into Florida, the better, just so we can get everyone on the same page. However, the idea is to get the right player. We’re not going to rush it if it’s not the guy that fits us and make sense.”

United will train in Washington next week, then move operations to Clearwater, Fla., for workouts and friendlies.

With the top pick in the draft, LAFC selected Akron freshman Joao Moutinho, a Portuguese defender. At No. 2, the Galaxy chose Stanford defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce, a finalist for the Hermann Trophy. With the pick acquired from United, LAFC took Pacific defender Tristan Blackmon.

The next two selections were also traded for allocation money, allowing FC Dallas to take Michigan forward Francis Atuahene and the Chicago Fire to pick Wake Forest forward Jon Bakero, the Hermann Trophy winner.

Players with D.C. college ties: Virginia goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell (No. 19 by NYCFC), Virginia Tech goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard (No. 21 by Columbus), Virginia forward Edward Opoku (No. 32 by Columbus), Georgetown midfielder Christopher Lema (No. 34 by Dallas), Maryland forward Gordon Wild (No. 37 by Atlanta) and Maryland midfielder Jake Rozhansky (No. 44 by Columbus). Rozhansky last week signed with an Israeli team, but the Crew will keep his MLS rights.

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