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D.C. United acquiring goalkeeper David Ochoa in trade with Real Salt Lake

Goalkeeper David Ochoa started 25 matches for Real Salt Lake in 2021 but none this year. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
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D.C. United reached an agreement to acquire David Ochoa, a highly regarded goalkeeper who has been locked in a dispute with Real Salt Lake and hasn’t played this season, three people familiar with the trade said Thursday.

The move, which would send allocation money to Salt Lake, was subject to MLS approval. In anticipation of that happening, though, Ochoa was scheduled to fly to Washington on Thursday and could be in uniform Sunday against Orlando City at Audi Field.

With Ochoa in the final year of his contract, United will not make any payments this year, said one person, who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could discuss the matter freely. RSL will receive $75,000 next year and, should Ochoa sign with United, an additional $150,000 in 2023, $150,000 in 2024 and 25 percent of any transfer abroad.

Ochoa is making $103,500 this season, MLS Players Association data shows, and turned down multiple offers to re-sign with RSL at a much higher salary. If he does not sign with United, Ochoa is likely to pursue opportunities abroad. Clubs in Europe and Mexico have reportedly shown interest.

United and RSL officials declined to comment.

Ochoa would challenge Rafael Romo for the starting job. Romo (eight starts since his acquisition from Belgian club Leuven in April) has received mixed reviews after replacing veteran Bill Hamid, who underwent hand surgery June 30.

Hamid, who was expected to miss two to three months after the procedure, is in the final season of a $700,000-a-year contract. People close to the organization said United is unlikely to extend Hamid an offer this fall given his salary and injury history. Jon Kempin (two starts) is the other keeper on the roster.

Ochoa, 21, turned pro in 2019 and started 25 matches last season but lost the starting job to Zac MacMath this year. After being sidelined early in the season with quadriceps and hand injuries, Ochoa has been absent for what the team said were personal reasons, Coach Pablo Mastroeni’s decision and fitness issues.

On July 12, Ochoa wrote on Instagram that he’s “still an RSL player.”

“I’m just not allowed to train with the team … and can’t leave,” he wrote.

His only appearances have come in the U.S. Open Cup tournament (one start) and with RSL’s third-division squad, Real Monarchs (two starts).

Ochoa’s immense talent, though, made him the center of a struggle between the U.S. and Mexican national teams for his services. A dual national from Southern California, Ochoa played for U.S. youth national teams and started for the under-23 squad at the 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament.

Gregg Berhalter, coach of the U.S. senior squad, named him to the 2021 Concacaf Nations League roster. He didn’t play but seemed to be in Berhalter’s long-term plans. Later that summer, though, Ochoa received FIFA approval for a one-time switch to the Mexican program. He was called up for the first time in April but has yet to play.

The acquisition of Ochoa continues a busy few weeks for United, which, with a 5-12-3 record, sits last in MLS’s 28-team overall standings with 14 matches left. Former English superstar Wayne Rooney, who played for United in 2018 and ’19, was named the coach two weeks ago.

Striker Miguel Berry (trade with Columbus) and Chilean winger Martín Rodriguez (transfer from Altay in Turkey) made their debuts last weekend. Like Rooney, Jamaican attacker Ravel Morrison (transfer from Derby County in England) and Icelandic defensive midfielder Victor Palsson (transfer from Schalke in Germany) are awaiting work visas.

United is aiming to sign a high-priced designated player and make other moves before the Aug. 4 deadline for MLS transfers and trades. (Teams are permitted to sign free agents until the Sept. 2 roster freeze.)

The club’s hope of landing striker Elijah Adebayo, a top scorer at Luton Town in England’s second division, seems remote.

“There’s been an inquiry” from D.C. United, Luton Town Manager Nathan Jones told reporters in England. “It’s not the time. Elijah’s next step really should be looking at the Premier League. ... Unless we get a substantial Premier League offer, Elijah will continue to play for Luton Town.”