New Brazilian striker Rafael ‘perfect fit’ for D.C. United

In what has been an unassuming offseason for D.C. United thus far, it seemed only appropriate that when their biggest splash came, the news wasn’t the identity of their marquee signing but rather the means of acquiring him.

After all, the one-year loan for 20-year-old striker Rafael had been inevitable since Esporte Clube Bahia, the player’s Brazilian parent club, announced the move last week. When United confirmed the news Wednesday, though, his classification as a highly priced “designated player” came as an intriguing development.

The club, it turns out, does not see this Brazilian youth international as a mere prospect. For a team that had identified a true “No. 9” striker as its top offseason priority, coach Ben Olsen noted that “he’s our guy” and that United “aren’t actively looking for any other No. 9’s.”

“We don’t want to put pressure on Rafael or great expectations,” general manager Dave Kasper said. “We want him to grow into his role. But we feel he’s the perfect fit.”

Rafael, who has scored 10 goals in 36 games in the Brazilian top flight, as a young designated player will count less against the cap than the $350,000 charge associated with veterans.

United also have an option to buy the player outright at season’s end.

“He’s very mature at a young age, but he is young,” Olsen said. “So there’s got to be a certain patience with him. But I certainly think he has the potential to be a big-time forward in this league.”

The designated player regulation, commonly referred to as the “Beckham Rule,” reduces the cap hit associated with deals for players who make beyond the maximum salary.

A year ago, United thought they had solved their search for a goal-scorer when Albanian marksman Hamdi Salihi signed a designated player contract. But the 28-year-old bagged just six goals in 22 games, struggling to adapt to the league and the high work rate Olsen expects out of his forwards.

With the club negotiating the exit of Salihi, who remains under contract for this season, it appears Rafael will be competing with veteran Lionard Pajoy for the starting job up top on a team that finished fourth in MLS with 53 goals last season.

“I believe in having a hardworking, physical No. 9,” Olsen said. “He’s also pretty well-rounded in his holdup game, good in the air, and has composure in front of goal.”

Added Kasper: “There was something about his total package that really intrigued us.”

NOTE: MLS on Wednesday released its full 2013 schedule, with United set to play 12 times on national television, including two matches on NBC. United, who shifted their routine home kickoff from 7:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., will play 16 of 17 home games on weekends.

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