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D.C. United finalizes record transfer deal for Peruvian World Cup midfielder

Peru's Edison Flores has made 47 appearances for the national team and started three group matches at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

D.C. United on Tuesday completed its acquisition of Peruvian midfielder Edison Flores, its most notable move this offseason in efforts to revamp its attack after several key departures.

United paid Mexican club Morelia a $5 million transfer fee, the largest in the MLS team’s history. Contract terms were not released, but people close to the negotiations said Flores signed a five-year contract, including one club-held option, and will earn a team-high $2.1 million.

“He is an exciting and dynamic attacking player who creates and scores goals,” Dave Kasper, United’s general manager and vice president of soccer operations, said in a statement. “What has really impressed us is his commitment to the team. He is a versatile and gritty two-way player who plays with a real pulse.”

Flores, 25, was instrumental in Peru qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, which ended a 36-year drought. He started three group matches at the Russia-hosted tournament, then this past summer helped Peru advance to the final of Copa América, the South American championship.

Flores typically plays left wing, a position at which United is already well-stocked, but he is also experienced in the middle and right. At the moment, he figures to start in a central role. But as the organization pursues additional players, Flores could serve a variety of functions.

“It’s nice to have attacking players with versatility,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “He has certainly put in some minutes as a central player in Mexico. We will see where he fits best for us. It’s no secret we’re looking for another attacker” to contend for a starting job.

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Flores and midfielder Paul Arriola are designated players, a term used for those who have salaries beyond MLS budget guidelines. United has one more DP slot available, which it could fill right away, during the summer transfer window or not at all.

United’s acquisition of Arriola in August 2017 was the previous high mark for a transfer fee: $3.25 million to Mexican club Tijuana.

As the playmaker, Flores would replace Luciano Acosta, an Argentine who dazzled and disappointed over four seasons before signing with Mexican club Atlas this winter.

Flores — nicknamed “Orejas” for his distinctive ears — will also help compensate for the loss of superstar Wayne Rooney, who returned to England after 1½ seasons in Washington. Although neither as famous nor as productive as Rooney, Flores promises to bolster the attack and stir interest in the team, particularly in the Latin American community.

In the current projected midfield, Flores would have Arriola on his right and Argentina’s Yamil Asad on his left. In his second tour with United — he signed in October — Asad replaces Lucas Rodríguez, whom United declined to purchase after his loan from Argentina’s Estudiantes expired. Rooney, Acosta and Rodríguez combined for 24 of the team’s 43 goals last season, including the playoffs.

United’s only other notable acquisition this winter is Estonian forward Erik Sorga, 20, who is under contract with second-division Loudoun United but is in D.C.'s plans as a backup to presumptive starter Ola Kamara of Norway.

United has also targeted Uruguayan attacker Brian Lozano from Mexican club Santos Laguna but seems nowhere near a multimillion-dollar deal. Several other international players are on the radar, including defenders to strengthen a thin back-line corps.

Players will begin reporting to training camp this weekend in Washington and, after a week of indoor workouts, they will regroup in Clearwater, Fla., for six friendlies. The season opener is Feb. 29 against the Colorado Rapids at Audi Field.

Flores comes to Washington after 1½ seasons with Morelia. He posted 12 goals and six assists in 47 matches. In the Apertura tournament quarterfinals in November, he scored three goals in a two-leg victory over Leon. Morelia lost in the semifinals to Club América.

Flores is known for his work ethic, endurance, tactical awareness and vision. His touch on the ball is said to be improving. He made significant strides during 2018 World Cup qualifiers, scoring five times, including a match-winner against Uruguay.

With qualifying for the 2022 World Cup starting this year and Copa América returning this summer, Flores will report to the national team periodically and miss MLS time. Defensive midfielder Júnior Moreno (Venezuela) is in the same situation.

Notes: Moreno and midfielder Ulises Segura (Costa Rica) received U.S. permanent residency and will no longer count as international players. Each team is given eight slots. United’s current internationals are Flores, Kamara and Asad. Sorga would occupy one as well, should, as expected, his contract be upgraded to MLS from the second-division USL Championship. …

In the second part of the MLS draft, United claimed Michigan’s Andrew Verdi, the Big Ten goalkeeper of the year, in the third round. The team passed on its other three picks. Last week, D.C. drafted 6-foot-9 Temple goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre in the second round. Lefebvre and Verdi will vie for contracts with Loudoun. …

United renewed its jersey sponsorship with Leidos, a Northern Virginia government contractor. The deal is for two years. Leidos replaced Volkswagen in 2014. United is also expected to add a sponsor’s patch on a jersey sleeve: Caesars Entertainment, in a deal that will also include a sportsbook at Audi Field.

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