No Salihi as United opens training camp

January 18, 2013

After a brief offseason, D.C. United eased into 2013 training camp early Friday at George Mason University’s field house with about 17 returning players. The most conspicuous absence: Hamdi Salihi, the high-priced Albanian striker who fell out of favor last year.

As anticipated, Salihi will not return to the team.

“We just don’t project him competing for a starting spot,” General Manager Dave Kasper said. “He’s a very good striker, but we’re not able to make it work for him.”

In Coach Ben Olsen‘s system, forwards are required to track back, play defense and distribute. Salihi didn’t meet those needs and was beaten out for a starting job late in the year by Lionard Pajoy, an attacker who, despite limited finishing ability, does the dirty work on the frontline.

Cutting ties with Salihi is not so simple, however. He has a guaranteed contract, and in order to clear him from the salary cap and roster, United will need to help facilitate a move or buy out his contract. MLS guidelines allow clubs to one buy out one guaranteed contract during the winter.

Kasper said he has had several conversations with Salihi and his representative. “More than likely,” Kasper said, “he will end up overseas” and not play for another MLS team.

Salihi, who scored six goals in 22 regular season appearances, had a base salary of $305,000 and guaranteed compensation of $487,000 — second on the team behind Dwayne De Rosario‘s $618,000/$663,000.

United has already begun addressing frontline needs, acquiring Brazilian forward Rafael, 20, on loan from Bahia. He is awaiting a visa to join his new team in Bradenton, Fla., for the start of outdoor workouts next week. Rafael was visiting the U.S. consulate in Rio de Janeiro today and, if all goes according to plan, he would arrive in seven to 10 days.

Other absences Friday: goalkeeper Bill Hamid (U.S. national team camp), defender-midfielder Andy Najar (Anderlecht loan this month) and third-choice keeper Andrew Dykstra, who has been training with English League One’s Hartlepool.

Hamid will join the club following the U.S.-Canada friendly Jan. 29 in Houston. United has received a preliminary transfer offer from Anderlecht about acquiring Najar but, Kasper said, “nothing worth contemplating” and the team expects the Honduran to return to Washington in two weeks. Dykstra is also expected back soon, unless he finds a firm opportunity in Europe.

First-round draft pick Taylor Kemp and several trialists won’t begin workouts until the team settles in Bradenton. Among those scheduled to attend: goalkeeper Diego Restrepo, a former University of Virginia standout out of contract after performing for Colombia’s America de Cali and Venezuela’s Tachira; and Serbian defender Neven Markovic, who spent four months with Sporting Kansas City last season.

Aside from Kemp, United will select at least two players in the supplemental draft Tuesday.

Dwayne De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic reported Friday but are scheduled to attend a 10-day Canadian national team camp in Arizona starting Sunday.

Argentine defender Emiliano Dudar, whose contract option was not exercised, is weighing United’s new offer (at a lower rate). With the addition of Kemp and the return of Daniel Woolard (concussion), Ethan White (injured much of last season) and Conor Shanosky (2012 loan to second-tier Fort Lauderdale), Kasper said United is comfortable with a defensive corps that also includes Jakovic, Brandon McDonald, Chris Korb and Robbie Russell.

United has yet to announce the deal with veteran midfielder John Thorrington, who was claimed in the re-entry draft, and the extension of Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto‘s loan from Fluminense.

Chris Pontius is being careful about a groin injury that sidelined him for the playoff finale and forced him to miss U.S. training camp this month.

“Running forward, it’s okay,” he said. “Kicking may give me a problem. The timeline? I don’t know. I could turn the corner in the next week and be ready in two weeks, or it could take a tiny bit longer. We are not rushing things. We have five to six weeks before the first game.”

Is he surprised the injury hasn’t healed quicker?

“Yeah. I knew when I did it, it was a bad pull. But I had the offseason to recover and the preseason to get ready.”

Midfielder Nick DeLeon is sporting bleach-blond hair and a dark beard – the same look he had in high school. His mom did the coloring. “She has good practice at it from when I was younger,” DeLeon said.

Teammates’ reaction?

Said De Rosario: “Terrible. That’s the young kid. Different is in. He likes it. It’s a little bit of character, which is good to see from him because he is quiet, humble. It’s good to see him come out of his shell a little bit. I don’t care about the hairstyle; it’s about what you do on the field.”

So will DeRo alter his hair color?

“Who knows? Maybe I will go for green.”

From today’s print edition, my story about Kemp and United’s proximity to — and bond with — the University of Maryland program.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Steven Goff · January 17, 2013