Q&A with Ben Olsen and Dave Kasper
Dave Kasper, D.C. United GM: Happy New Year, everyone. Thank you for being on the call today. We’re very pleased to announce this deal, the signing of Rafael. He’s been on our radar for some time. We scouted the player heavily in the offseason. This is a rare opportunity to take a player of his pedigree and first-team experience on a one-year loan with a view to a permanent transfer. So, you don’t too often get these opportunities. He will be a young Designated Player, which means there’s a salary-cap benefit to us – a reduced salary-cap charge. There’s also, in this deal, funds available from MLS to make this happen. Rafael fits in with a young group of talented core players that we have here. We have a coaching staff who is one of the best in MLS at developing young talent and not afraid to play young players, so this fits in perfectly with the direction we’re moving in. We don’t want to put a lot of pressure on Rafael or great expectations. We want him to grow into his role, but we feel he’s a perfect fit with D.C. United. So, I’ll turn this over to Ben [Olsen] and he can talk more about, specifically, the player’s qualities and what we saw in him.
Ben Olsen, D.C. United Head Coach: Good morning, everyone. What I like about Rafael, first and foremost, is physically, he fits the demands of our league. That’s a good starting point. I believe in having a hard-working, physical No. 9, and I think he’s all pretty well-rounded in his hold-up game, good in the air, composure in front of goal. He’s very mature at a young age, but he is young. He’s 20-years-old, so there’s gotta be certain patience we have with him, but I certainly think he has the potential to be a big-time forward in this league. That’s up to him to come here and earn that right, first and foremost, to compete against Pajoy, who I also think is a good forward in this league. At this point, we have two very good options and we’ll see how the preseason goes. I’ll let you guys open it up to questions if you want.
Steven Goff, Washington Post: You made a point this offseason of identifying a forward, someone who has the capability to produce goals. Is this your guys or are you still searching for a “marquee forward” to join as a young, rather unproven player.
BO: He’s our guy. Look, if you told me I’d have to start with Pajoy this year, in evaluating who we are in the offseason, I’d be ok with that. Adding this now is another very good option, I think, to compete. And we’ll see. I’m not going to put crazy demands on this guy. We’ve got firepower, we’ve scored goals. With Dwayne [De Rosario] coming back, guys like[Nick] DeLeon, [Chris] Pontius, we were fourth in the League last year [in goals scored]. So, again, this guy physically fits with our league, but he is 20. So, he’s our guy. We’re not actively looking for any other No. 9s and we’ll go with who we are. This offseason, there’s been a lot reported on how quiet we’ve been. I like our team. I like who we are and we wanted to add one or two pieces in the offseason to make us better and I think we’ve done that.
Craig Stouffer, Washington Examiner: How did this contrast from last year? You guys had thought you’d done this a year ago with Salihi. What’s different this time around?
BO: I’m not sure. We’ll see. We’ll look in the future and see how this guy does. I’m not gonna promise you the world. I think he’s a good forward. We’ll evaluate him. We think he fits our league, we think he fits our team and we’ll see.
SG: Dave, can you just explain the contract situation? You mentioned in the release that you’re looking at him as a permanent transfer. Just wondering if you could elaborate on that.
DK: Sure, Steve. This deal was a loan with a buyout option, so if the player meets our expectations, if we feel he’s a long-term solution for us as a striker, we have an opportunity to exercise an option in December this year for a permanent transfer. So, that’s already been pre-negotiated.
SG: And is there a fee involved, pre-negotiated?
DK: Yes. There is a loan fee, and there’s a transfer price that’s been negotiated and there’s a contractual obligation to the club if we want to move forward with the player. That number is set in stone.
SG: Ben, could you go into more detail about what kinds of things he brings beyond – you talked about his physical presence – is he a pure goal-scorer? None of us have obviously seen him play, so any information you could share would be great.
BO: He’s pretty well-rounded. Again, he’s physical – I talked about his physicality. I think he’s pretty cultured around the goal. He scores goals in a variety of ways – in the air, from distance, movement in the box. I think his habits for a forward are very, very good, and that’s one of the parts that I love about this kid – his willingness to work. And those of you that know me, know that I like my forwards to be the first line of defense and make sure they’re setting the tone, from a physical standpoint, not only on the offensive end, but on the defensive end, putting backs under pressure. I think that’s contagious, and he will do that. And again, he’s mature. He’s playing some real games in the first division of Brazil. Very few players who have come into this league have first-team Brazilian league experience. At that age, I think the upside to a guy like this, in particular on a one-year loan, is a very, very good situation for us as a team and our owners, frankly.
DK: If I could build on that as well, we did a lot of scouting in the offseason. We looked at a lot of different players and there were at a lot more accomplished, a lot more experienced players in the No. 9 position that we had on our radar, but there was something about this total package that really intrigued us with Rafael. His age, his experience, his upsides, his physical presence, his ability to get in great spots in the box – he scores different types of goals, all types of goals. It was basically a no-brainer. There was a lot more expensive and a lot more accomplished players that we were looking at. We brought Luciano Emilio here. Luciano played in Serie A. He took a different route, went to a lot of smaller clubs in Europe, eventually fell in Honduras, but certainly at 20-years-old, Luciano didn’t have 10 goals in Serie A over 30 first-team appearances. So, when you take all that into account, there is a lot of very attractive things with this move.
CS: In being a one-year deal, for now – that’s a pretty urgent time frame, so how do you balance it with the expectations with the patience that you want to have with a young guy like that?
DK: Christian Gomez came here on basically a four-month loan, with an option to buy afterwards. So, in a short amount of time, Christian moved himself. Rafael has two and half times that amount of time – a full 10 months to show what he can do here.
BO: We’ll know, we’ll know. This year, you’ll see and we’ll see if he fits with this club.
CS: What do you guys make of his nickname, “The Gladiator”?
BO: Same nickname I had as a player. I don’t know. Look, I think when you guys start doing a little research on the guy and see some footage, there’s a couple of plays that I think you’ll see that shows the commitment level of this guys and he’s certainly not shy of contact. And I think that’s probably where he gets it. I don’t put too much thought in nicknames. That’s not how we do our scouting, but I’d rather his nickname be “The Gladiator” than something else. You know what I mean?