D.C. United on Wednesday announced the acquisition of Rafael, a 20-year-old forward on loan from a Brazilian club whom Coach Ben Olsen believes has “the potential to be a big-time forward in this league.”
Rafael scored 10 goals in 36 appearances for Bahia in the Brazilian league, United officials said, and comes to United as a “young designated player,” meaning he will receive one of the highest salaries on the club but count only $200,000 against the salary cap. (Veteran designated players count $350,000.) His earnings were not disclosed. Neither was the fee involved in the loan.
United has the option to purchase his contract next winter. The transfer cost has been agreed upon, General Manager Dave Kasper said. Kasper did not reveal the figure.
“This is a rare opportunity to take a player of his pedigree in first-team experience on a one-year loan with a view to a permanent transfer,” Kasper said. “We have a coaching staff . . . not afraid to play young players, so it fits in perfectly with the direction we are moving in. We don’t want to put pressure on Rafael or great expectations. We want him to grow into his role.”
Rafael, who joins Brazilian midfielders Marcelo Saragosa and Raphael Augusto in Washington, will compete with returning forward Lionard Pajoy for playing time, Olsen said. Pajoy, a Colombian, joined the club late last season and scored just three goals in 12 regular season appearances.
United made signing a forward a priority during the offseason, and although the 6-foot, 190-pound Rafael is young, “This is our guy,” Olsen said.
“If you had told me I would start with Pajoy this year, I would be okay with that. Adding this now, it is another very good option to compete. We’ll see. I am not going to put crazy demands on this guy. We've got firepower. We've scored goals [fourth most in the league last year]. . . . This guy physically fits in our league, but he is 20. He is our guy. We’re not actively looking for any other [strikers]. I like our team. I like who we are. We wanted to add one or two pieces to make us better, and I think we have done it.”
Rafael’s arrival is more evidence United is looking to unload Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi, a high-priced signing last winter who didn’t meet the club’s expectations and started just 10 league matches. Salihi has a guaranteed contract, but with him out of favor, he is apparently seeking opportunities in Europe.
“We’re in contact with his representative about his future,” Kasper said. “Those discussions are ongoing.”
Rafael, who played in the 2011 Pan-American Games, is scheduled to join the club soon. United opens training camp late next week in Washington before moving operations to Bradenton, Fla.
Olsen cited Rafael’s physical presence, his ability to hold the ball and composure in the penalty area. He added: “I like my forwards to be the first line of defense” — which is why Pajoy, despite his scoring shortcomings, started most matches late in the 2012 season.
“He is young so there has to be a certain patience,” Olsen said. “I certainly think he has the potential to be a big-time forward in this league.”
Kasper said the club scouted many players, “there was something about his total package that really intrigued us.”
United’s 34-game regular season schedule is set, beginning March 2 and ending Oct. 27 against defending MLS Eastern Conference champion Houston.
United’s first three matches — at Houston, home against Real Salt Lake on March 9 and at New York on March 16 — were previously announced. The balance of the schedule includes 16 of 17 home matches on weekends. In 2012, United had four Wednesday dates at RFK Stadium.
United will appear on national TV 12 times, including twice on NBC’s main channel: March 16 at New York and Oct. 27 in the finale against the Dynamo. Six are slated for NBC Sports Network, three are on Spanish-language Telefutura and one on ESPN2. Local broadcasts, typically on Comcast SportsNet, has not been finalized