From the time D.C. United were eliminated from the postseason by the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Championship, Ben Olsen made it clear his top offseason target was an impact forward.
Two months later, Olsen and GM Dave Kasper believe they’ve found their man.
On Wednesday, Brazilian striker Rafael Teixeira de Souza signed with the club as a young Designated Player on a one-year loan followed by the option of a permanent transfer. The 20-year-old joins D.C. from Bahia of Serie A, where the 6-foot, 179-pound forward has made 36 first-team appearances and scored 10 goals.
“There were more accomplished and experienced players at the No. 9 position that we had on our radar, but there was something about this total package that really intrigued us with Rafael,” Kasper said in a conference call on Wednesday. “His age, his experience, his upside, his physical presence, his ability to get to great spots in the box. He has scored very different types of goals. It was basically a no-brainer compared to a lot more expensive players and a lot more accomplished players we were looking at.”
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Kasper said the deal is a one-year loan with a buyout option should Rafael meet or exceed the club’s expectations. If that happens, United have an opportunity to exercise an option in December for a permanent transfer, which has been pre-negotiated.
“What I like about Rafael is, first and foremost, physically he fits the demands of our league,” Olsen said. “That’s a good starting point. I believe in having a hard-working, physical No. 9. He’s also pretty well-rounded in his hold-up game, good in the air and has good composure in front of goal.
“He is young. He’s 20 years old, so there’s got to be a certain patience we have with him, but I certainly think he has the potential to be a big-time forward in this league.”
Last season, United struggled to achieve consistent play from its forwards with Hamdi Salihi, Maicon Santos, Long Tan and Lionard Pajoy all sharing time up top. Olsen said he would have felt “OK” entering the season with Pajoy slotted into the No. 9 position, but Rafael will now battle Pajoy for a starting spot.
“I’m not going to put crazy demands on this guy,” Olsen said of his newest acquisition. “We’ve got firepower. We’ve scored goals. With Dwayne [De Rosario] coming back, [Nick] DeLeon, guys like [Chris] Pontius, we were fourth in the league last year [in goals]. This guy, physically, fits into our league, but he is 20.”
The addition of Rafael, who turns 21 in July, means that currently there are 13 players age 25 or younger on United’s roster. Olsen said he’s currently not looking for another No. 9.
“He’s playing some real games in the first division of Brazil," the coach said. "Very few players have come into this league that have had first-team Brazilian experience. At that age, I think the upside of a guy like this, in particular on a one-year loan, is a very good situation for us as a team and our owners.”