D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario signs new contract

Ned Dishman/GETTY IMAGES - Dwayne De Rosario of D.C. United dribbles the ball against Collen Warner of Real Salt Lake at RFK Stadium last season.

D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario, the MLS most valuable player last season, signed a contract Monday that will make him the club’s highest-paid player.

Terms were not disclosed, but sources close to the situation said De Rosario will earn more than United’s other high-profile players, midfielder Branko Boskovic and newly acquired striker Hamdi Salihi.

De Rosario, a 33-year-old midfielder and forward from Canada, was entering the final year of a contract that paid him about $500,000 in 2011. In recent weeks, both parties signaled a deal was near.

“It’s a great feeling to be associated with the United family,” De Rosario said in a written statement. “Ever since I came here, the organization and the fans have accepted me as part of the family, and I want to keep this family growing.”

Although he is United’s top wage-earner, De Rosario will not be classified as a “designated player,” elite status that allows MLS clubs to sign players outside normal salary guidelines. Boskovic and Salihi were already beyond the $350,000 threshold, and a third designated player would have triggered a $250,000 luxury tax.

To avoid that, the club used MLS allocation money — which essentially is financial credits — to soften his impact. The league distributes allocation money for, among other things, missing the playoffs.

United, which hasn’t qualified for postseason since 2007, acquired additional funds from the Portland Timbers this month.

After joining United from the New York Red Bulls in mid-season last year, De Rosario recorded 13 goals and seven assists in 18 appearances and won the MLS Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer (16 goals overall).

He is expected to partner with Salihi on the front line when United opens the season March 10 against Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium.

Salihi practiced for the first time Monday after receiving a work visa and arriving from Austria, where he played the previous 2½ years for Rapid Vienna.

In an introductory news conference prior to the De Rosario announcement, United officials said Salihi was their primary target this winter.

“It’s an important piece for us,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “We’ve been searching for the right [striker] for some time. We think we’ve found it.”

Salihi, 28, scored 36 goals in 67 appearances for Rapid. With his contract set to expire this summer, he and Rapid began entertaining offers, including one from Scottish titan Glasgow Rangers. Initially, United hoped to bring him to MLS during the summer transfer window, but as talks progressed, the opportunity to acquire him right away emerged.

Aside from the contract offer, United had two other factors working in its favor: Boskovic, Salihi’s former teammate with Rapid, and Rangers’ financial troubles. Salihi turned to Boskovic for advice about United, MLS and life in Washington.

“He say all the words I need to hear to convince me to come here,” said Salihi, who, before arriving Saturday, had visited the United States just once — in 2003 when his hometown team in Albania, Vllaznia Shkoder, played in Detroit.

Meantime, Rangers was slipping into deeper debt and was in no position to offer a major contract.

Said Salihi: “I had a lot of possibility and offers, but always in my career I look to which team and which people are giving me more respect for what I do.”

Salihi, however, will need time to adapt to his new teammates and surroundings, Olsen cautioned.

“We need to integrate him over the next couple of weeks and make sure he’s ready to go,” he said. “Obviously, he’s not going to be 90 minutes’ fit right now. I have no doubt he’s the [striker] for now and for the future of D.C. United.”

United notes: John Harkes, the former D.C. and U.S. national team captain, will serve as color commentator on Comcast SportsNet’s coverage this season, his second TV stint with United.

Harkes, who was in the Comcast booth after retiring as a player in 2003, was let go by ESPN last fall after working the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. He replaces Thomas Rongen, who accepted a coaching position in Toronto FC’s development academy. . . .

United will practice in Arlington for two more days before departing for Charleston, S.C., site of the Carolina Challenge Cup. D.C. will open the four-team preseason tournament Saturday against the Chicago Fire.

 
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