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D.C. United strikes deal to acquire Taxiarchis Fountas earlier than expected

In January, Taxiarchis Fountas (left) signed what in soccer parlance is called a precontract. (Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse)

Taxiarchis Fountas was not scheduled to join D.C. United — and become its highest-paid player — until July, halfway through the MLS season. He was, after all, still under contract with Rapid Vienna through the end of the Austrian campaign.

But United wanted the Greek forward in uniform as soon as possible, and late Wednesday night the club reached a deal with his current employer that frees him right away.

United will pay a transfer fee of about $400,000 to release him from his Rapid Vienna contract, a person close to the talks said. Club officials declined to comment.

Fountas was scheduled to arrive Thursday night and undergo a physical. He will then have to await approval of a work visa, a process that could take three weeks. Barring delays or complications, Fountas could end up debuting April 16 against Austin FC at Audi Field.

Rapid Vienna told Austrian newspaper Kurier: “We can confirm that Taxi Fountas was allowed to travel to his future employer D.C. United. … Discussions are ongoing about a possible early change.”

In January, Fountas signed what in soccer parlance is called a precontract, which allows players to pursue new teams within six months of their current deal expiring. Under that arrangement, he would continue playing for Rapid Vienna and wouldn’t become eligible for United until the MLS summer transfer window opens July 7.

In need of attacking help this spring, United was up against a May 4 deadline to bring in players.

United has high hopes for Fountas, who will earn about $7 million over three seasons. He becomes the team’s second designated player, a classification for those who earn more than the league limit of $612,500.

Peruvian attacker Edison Flores is the other, and United officials say they are in the market for a third this year. Each team is allowed three.

Fountas will join an attacking corps that also includes strikers Michael Estrada and Ola Kamara, forward Nigel Robertha and midfielders Adrien Perez and Griffin Yow.

United projects Fountas as a front-line player or a withdrawn forward stationed just behind a striker.

The club scored three goals in the season opener against expansion Charlotte FC (on a penalty kick and two deflections), needed a late penalty to defeat FC Cincinnati, 1-0, and was blanked by the Chicago Fire, 2-0, last weekend.

Fountas, 26, has scored 11 goals in 31 matches (26 starts) across all competitions this season, including UEFA Champions League qualifiers and Europa League. However, since Rapid Vienna returned from the winter break in early February, he has made just one appearance.

Also in the market for a defensive midfielder, United has targeted Chris Durkin, who began his career in Washington at 16 and has played the past 2½ years for Sint-Truiden in Belgium.

Because Durkin left MLS for a transfer fee of more than $500,000, United would need to acquire him through the league’s allocation order. At No. 11, D.C. would have to trade up or prearrange a trade with a team willing to claim Durkin.