As the 2013 MLS season approaches, we're counting down the days to March 2 and running the proverbial rule over each player on D.C. United's roster. Today's subject: United's brand new 20-year-old Designated Player, Brazilian striker Rafael.
In Brazil, fans of his team Bahia called him Gladiador because of his physical style and his "thumbs down" goal celebration. In D.C. United's locker room, though, they're just calling him Rafa. Whatever you call Rafael Teixeira de Souza, he's the 20-year-old striker who's been brought to town as a Designated Player with designs on replacing Lionard Pajoy at the front of the D.C. attack.
Rafael is a Brazilian youth international, representing their U-20 side on three occasions, and saw time with Bahia's first team last year. He comes to RFK Stadium on a one-year loan, with a pre-negotiated purchase price should United want to make the move permanent. If that arrangement sounds familiar, it's because a similar loan-with-option brought Charlie Davies to the Black-and-Red from French club Sochaux back in 2011. Unfortunately, Davies' time in the District was limited to that yearlong loan, but he's not the only man to wear the black number 9 shirt in recent years, and he's not the only one to have such a short time in it.
Last year, of course, there was Hamdi Salihi, whose exit should be settled by the end of next week (due to the March 1 roster compliance deadline, when guaranteed contracts like Salihi's really do become guaranteed). The year before Davies came on loan, there was the Australian Danny Alsopp wearing number 9, and we all remember what happened that season. Before Alsopp, the last person to wear the shirt was... Freddy Adu back in 2006, a season in which he scored only two goals from 37 appearances in all competitions.
Suffice it to say that United's #9 shirt hasn't had a good run in recent years. Will Gladiador be the man to turn that around? Before he's even played a competitive match in Black-and-Red - or even a minute of any kind with the starters - it's pretty clearly too early to say. We do know from Ben Olsen's quotes that he thinks Rafa has the tools and the style to succeed in MLS and in Olsen's system, but similarly, we know the 6'0", got some acclimating and adjusting to do.
This is a question that's going to remain open until deep into the season, but one thing we can say: If the answer is settled relatively early in the season, it will almost certainly be because Rafael is the guy and has come on stronger and faster than anybody expected. If the question is still open come the fall, though - we'll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.
So what's your take? Are you optimistic about Rafa's chances of helping D.C. United build on 2012? Or do you think he'll be another goner come this time next year?