[MLS SPOTLIGHT] From the same source it drew its current Designated Player D.C. United has acquired a second one.
Forward Hamdi Salihi, an Albanian international and former teammate of Branko Boskovic at Rapid Vienna, has been signed at undisclosed terms. The 28-year-old Salihi (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) had scored 11 goals in 15 matches (all competitions) this season for Rapid Vienna; those numbers upped his tally to 53 goals in 90 games for the Austrian Bundesliga club since signing in 2008.
“He has one of the most impressive strike rates you’ll find and has shown he’s capable of scoring goals at every level in which he’s played,” said D.C. general manager Dave Kasper in a team press release. “We believe strongly he will become another important piece for our team and we look forward to seeing him on the field in March.”
The reunion of Boskovic and Salihi is another piece in United’s rebuild of a team that because of injuries and a few subpar performances relied far too much last year on Dwayne DeRosario, whose incredible play earned his first MVP award but not a playoff spot. Boskovic played just four league games before a tackle by New England’s Alan Koger in a U.S. Open Cup game inflicted a torn ACL and hairline fracture of his left knee.
Boskovic has recovered sufficiently to play in United’s first few preseason games during its visit to Florida that ended Thursday. Midfielder Chris Pontius, sidelined last September with a fracture of his right tibia, accompanied the team to Florida but hasn’t yet played in scrimmages or games.
He’s been building up his fitness and working with trainers, and targets D.C. United’s March 10 opener as a return to action. Pontius scored seven goals and five assists before a crunching challenge by Chivas USA defender David Junior Lopes ended his season.
Team president Kevin Payne is anxious to see Boskovic healthy and with a renewed respect for MLS that took some time to sink in. The Macedonian signed in 2010 and didn’t show a lot in 13 games,
“Like a lot of guys from overseas, he probably underestimated our league a little bit,” says Payne. “He wasn’t fit when he came here in the summer [of 2010], and he wasn’t fit when he came back in the winter.
“However, he was fit at the time he got injured. He came late into a game in which we were getting spanked against New York early in the season; he hit the post twice and had another play saved off the line. He’s a quality player. He dominated in an Open Cup game against New England [a 3-2 loss] where he got injured. He was like a man playing with boys.
“He’s still only 31, he should have a couple high-quality years left. He’s a very crafty passer with great technique and a great sense of rhythm on the field. I think he and Dwayne are going to be pretty fun to watch. With Dwayne and a healthy Chris Pontius and Andy [Najar] and Boskovic, I think we’re going to be a pretty scary team going forward.”
The attack will be in flux for some time, as head coach Ben Olsen is also incorporating veteran Maicon Santos, a former teammate of De Rosario at Toronto FC. There is more stability and certainty in the back line.
Olsen has already fielded what could be his starting defensive quarter: from left to right, Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic and either Chris Korb or Robbie Russell at right back. Argentine defender Emiliano Dudar, who signed in late January, trained for several days in Florida after joining up with his new team.
The Florida stint concluded Thursday with a 1-1 tie against Swedish club Malmo FF, for which former Sounder Erik Friberg scored on a free kick. A cross by Korb set up trialist Ryan Richter for the tying goal early in the second half.
The team returned to Washington, D.C. after the Malmo contest and will hold a media day Friday. It departs for Arizona on Monday.