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Posted at 01:24 PM ET, 02/08/2012

Soccer Outsider: Hamdi Salihi is just what D.C. United needs . . . unless he isn’t


United needed another attacking option and Albanian import Hamdi Salihi could fit the bill. (Mathias Kniepeiss - Getty Images)
In my last post, I asked for suggestions about what to name my contributions to this blog. The issue is that we now have two people writing in this space: Steven Goff, who provides facts and information, and me, who provides baseless opinions and Kurt Morsink jokes. So, we need a name — otherwise, if you saw a post entitled “Kurt Morsink Is 10 Times Worse Than Genghis Khan,” you might not know who wrote it.

In spite of some pretty rigid constrictions (must be two words, preferably includes my last name) we had some really good suggestions. My favorite came from “wmsiii”, who proposed “Soccrer Insidrer,” which I thought was a pretty clever play on the weird spelling/pronunciation of my last name, but The Post’s editors justifiably felt that it would look like a typo every time it was published. “Beergorila” recommended Persistent Infringement, which I like but perhaps sounds too much like a late-period Twisted Sister album. In the end, we decided to go with a suggestion by frequent commenter and presumed Hamburger Hamlet regular “I-270 Exit1” (seriously: if you’re near Democracy Boulevard, check out the Hamlet), who suggested Soccer Outsider. I like it: It’s succinct, informative and accurately establishes me as Chris Gains to Goff’s Garth Brooks.

For weeks, we’ve known that D.C. United was going to sign a striker, and sure enough: Hamdi Salihi of Albania is now in the fold. My first impression: I love this signing. He’s exactly the type of player we need. But first impressions can be misleading — I say this as a man who once considered voting for John Edwards. I have a habit of projecting my hopes onto new arrivals. When I was a teenager, I would do this to every new girl in school. “Oh,” I would think, “This girl seems like the type of girl who enjoys hearing Monty Python routines reenacted verbatim. A girl who appreciates an impressive collection of Sonic Youth T-shirts. A girl who doesn’t care about acne or lack of muscle tone, and who understands that being vice president of Model UN is a way bigger achievement than being captain of the football team.”

Alas, I was occasionally wrong.

None of us can have much of an opinion about Salihi because none of us have seen him play. And if you have seen him play — if you watch a lot of Austrian Bundesliga or Albanian national team games — then, please: re-examine your life. Next time you find yourself setting the DVR for the SV Salzburg v Kapfenberg tie, ask yourself: “When’s the last time I called my mother?” If you spend your nights hunting for pirated streams of the Albania-San Marino match, maybe consider that the time might be better spent learning a trade or volunteering at a homeless shelter. The only Americans who have strong opinions on Salihi are people whose judgement is a bit suspect to begin with.

That being said: on paper, this signing looks great. He is certainly the type of player we need: a center forward who scores goals. The main thing I like about him is how many “but then” scenarios his presence on the team eliminates. Here’s what I mean: If you don’t have Salihi, then you probably start Josh Wolff and Dwayne De Rosario up top, but then you’re playing two small-ish, withdrawn strikers. You could play Chris Pontius up top, but then he’s playing with his back to the goal and you have a hole at left midfield. You could put Nick DeLeon at left midfield, but then you’re relying on an untested rookie. You could slide Branko Boskovic left and Andy Najar central, but then both guys are out of position and you’re making Danny Cruz a no-doubt starter on the right. You could start Maicon Santos, but then you’re starting Maicon Santos. And on and on.

With Salihi on the roster, this team fits together. Strikers: Salihi (target), De Rosario (withdrawn). Midfield: Pontius (left), Perry Kitchen (holding), Boskovic (attacking), Najar (right). Defense: Not really affected by Salihi, but probably Daniel Woolard, Emiliano Dudar, Dejan Jakovic and Robbie Russell, with Brandon McDonald ready to come in if anyone has a dip in form. And in a shocking turn of events, Stephen King starts every game in goal.

There are other circumstantial factors that suggest Salihi might be good. For starters, he cost some money; it looks like he will be a designated player. He’s also 28; I was worried he might be “obsessed with reducing home energy costs” age, but thankfully he’s only “having six roommates is starting to get old” age. Maybe most importantly, he’s got a good goal-scoring record in Austria: 53 goals in 90 games for Rapid Vienna and 38 in 88 for SV Reid. He also has nine goals in 37 games for Albania, which is pretty good considering that they’re freaking Albania and are generally too malnourished to get the ball across the midfield stripe. Of course, I always take strike rates with a huge grain of salt: Eddie Johnson, for example, has an excellent strike rate.

So welcome, Hamdi Salihi. We all hope you are Luciano Emilio 1.0 and not Luciano Emilio 2.0 or — worse yet — any edition of Danny Allsopp. I, for one, am optimistic because you seem like the type of player we need. But I need to remind myself: The type of player we need isn’t a target striker with a record of scoring goals. The type of player we need is one who is good at soccer.

By Jeff Maurer  |  01:24 PM ET, 02/08/2012

 
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