D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

D.C. United is close to acquiring Lucas Rodriguez, a 21-year-old attacker from Argentine club Estudiantes, people close to the negotiations said Thursday.

In what would be the organization’s first big splash of the offseason, United is prepared to take Rodriguez on loan for an undisclosed fee that would go toward the overall cost of a possible permanent transfer next winter. Rodriguez, a starter in Argentina’s top division, is valued by the website transfermarkt.co.uk at $3.71 million.

Talks have moved far enough along that Rodriguez might travel to Washington soon for face-to-face meetings and a physical, one source said.

He first appeared on United’s radar in 2015 when D.C. officials were scouting Rodriguez’s teammate, central midfielder Luciano Acosta. United acquired Acosta in 2016 on loan and bought him outright the following year. In 2018, Acosta made the MLS Best XI and was seventh in MVP voting.

Rodriguez is both a central midfielder and a winger. With United, he would probably play on the wing most of the time, but also pair with Acosta on occasion or serve as a second forward behind star striker Wayne Rooney.

In 12 appearances with Estudiantes since Sept. 2, Rodriguez started on the left side six times, the right wing three times and centrally three times.

He is a creator more than a scorer: 12 goals in 112 matches in all competitions since 2015. Most impressive on his portfolio, though, is that he has already started 59 league matches in a high-caliber league.

He was a member of the Argentine squad at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, starting two of three matches.

Atlanta United apparently owns Rodriguez’s MLS discovery rights, meaning D.C. would have to compensate the reigning champions.

With Rodriguez seemingly on the way in, a wide midfielder might be on the way out. On the surface, Argentine Yamil Asad seems most vulnerable, given he was on loan last season. However, sources said United has made considerable progress in its efforts to permanently acquire Asad from Argentine club Velez Sarsfield for more than $1 million.

That would leave Hungary’s Zoltan Stieber, a part-time starter who, at $1 million, has one of the largest contracts on the payroll.

The return of Asad and the arrival of Rodriquez would also allow the team to move wing Paul Arriola to right back, a position with glaring needs after Oniel Fisher underwent major knee surgery in the fall and Nick DeLeon joined Toronto FC in the MLS reentry draft. Arriola provided defensive cover at right back late last season.

The Rodriguez news comes one day after United completed a trade with Orlando City for reserve goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr., a four-year pro with six career first-team starts. United relinquished a second-round pick (38th overall) in the Jan. 11 draft in Chicago.

Bill Hamid is the returning starter. Second-choice keeper David Ousted is on the trading block and Travis Worra’s contract option was not exercised.

Meantime, as previously reported here Monday, MLS announced D.C. will play its home opener March 3 against defending champion Atlanta United at Audi Field. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.

D.C.'s second match is March 10 against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium (3 p.m.). The league will unveil the complete schedule next month.

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