D.C. United addressed its void on the frontline Thursday by acquiring Hamdi Salihi, an Albanian striker who scored at a prolific rate for Austria’s most famed club, Rapid Vienna.
“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,” United General Manager Dave Kasper said. “We believe strongly he will become another important piece for our team.”
Salihi, 28, is awaiting a U.S. work visa, a process that could take two to three weeks.
He will be classified as an MLS designated player, a five-year-old mechanism that allows clubs to sign elite players by spending their own money on top of the $335,000 salary paid by the league. Salihi’s contract figures weren’t disclosed but soccer industry sources believe it’s on the lower end of the designated player scale (between $500,000 and $750,000).
Montenegro midfielder Branko Boskovic ($525,000) is United’s other designated player, and the club has been negotiating a potential DP contract with 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario.
Salihi’s contract includes two guaranteed years and two club-held option years, said his New Jersey-based agent, Dejan Drobnjak. Drobnjak also represents Boskovic, Salihi’s teammate at Rapid Vienna in 2009-10.
Per MLS rules, Drobnjak declined to discuss Salihi’s salary.
United also paid an undisclosed transfer fee for the rights to Salihi, whom his agent said was also being pursued by clubs in Scotland and China. Rapid Vienna also weighed re-signing him.
Salihi essentially fills the roster slot vacated by Charlie Davies, the American forward who scored 11 goals while on loan from French club Sochaux last season. Davies returned to France this winter after United declined to purchase his contract or extend the loan.
Salihi, who has nine goals in 37 appearances for Albania’s national team, scored 53 times in 90 appearances for Rapid Vienna, a 32-time Austrian champion. Previously, he had 38 goals in 88 matches for SV Ried in Austria.
United addressed the frontline last month by signing MLS free agent Maicon Santos but still lacked a top-flight striker. The club’s depth chart now includes Salihi, Maicon Santos, Josh Wolff and second-year Blake Brettschneider. De Rosario and Chris Pontius, who usually play on the flank or as withdrawn attacker respectively, are also options up top.
United’s other acquisitions this winter were Argentine defender Emiliano Dudar (Swiss club Young Boys), midfielders Danny Cruz (Houston Dynamo) and first-round draft pick Nick DeLeon (Louisville), veteran defender Robbie Russell (Real Salt Lake). The club also has several players on tryout in training camp.
One of those trialists, midfielder Ryan Richter, scored in the 54th minute of a 1-1 draw with Swedish club Malmo in a preseason match Thursday in Bradenton, Fla.
The club will return to Washington on Thursday and then resume training in Arizona early next week. The season opener is March 10 against Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium.