Hamdi Salihi celebrates after a goal against Colorado last season. (Ned Dishman/GETTY IMAGES)

Hamdi Salihi’s departure from D.C. United has been in the works for some time, but until a contract resolution is reached, the well-paid Albanian striker will be tethered to the club.

Salihi was not present for fitness tests at George Mason University’s field house on Friday morning — the first formal gathering of United’s players this preseason and, by extension, the first acknowledgment that he would not return this year.

“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.”

Salihi, though, has a guaranteed contract, so until he finds a new team or United buys him out, he will remain on the club’s books. MLS allows teams to buy out one guaranteed deal per year.

Shedding Salihi would clear salary cap space and a roster slot. It would also free an international position and give United the flexibility to sign a new high-priced player. At the moment, however, a marquee addition from overseas does not appear to be in the club’s immediate plans.

With a base salary of $305,000 and guaranteed compensation of $487,000, Salihi was United’s second-highest-paid player in 2012 behind Dwayne De Rosario ($618,000/$663,000).

Salihi scored six goals in 22 regular season appearances (10 starts) but fell out of favor midway through the year and didn’t factor in United’s playoff run.

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, did the dirty work on the front line.

The club’s fading interest in Salihi surfaced again this month with the acquisition of Rafael, a 20-year-old forward on loan from Brazilian club Bahia. He is awaiting a work visa and might be able to join United in Bradenton, Fla., next weekend.

Goalkeeper Bill Hamid and defender Andy Najar were also absent Friday, but with excuses. Hamid is in U.S. national team camp in Carson, Calif., and Najar is on loan to Belgian club Anderlecht, which is making overtures about a permanent move. United has not received a substantial offer, Kasper said.

Forward Dwayne De Rosario and defender Dejan Jakovic were present Friday but will fly to Arizona on Sunday for Canadian training camp ahead of friendlies against Denmark in Tucson and the United States in Houston.

Meantime, United has extended a camp invitation to Diego Restrepo, the University of Virginia’s goalkeeper for the 2009 NCAA championship. He has played for America de Cali in Colombia and Tachira in Venezuela.

Serbian defender Neven Markovic (Sporting Kansas City last season) and former Toronto and Colorado midfielder Joseph Nane (Old Dominion) are also attempting to earn roster spots.

United will add at least two other players during the supplemental college draft Tuesday.

Spirit enjoys local ties

The Washington Spirit continued constructing its roster with a local touch, using its first three picks in the National Women’s Soccer League college draft on former All-Mets.

With the second overall selection, the Spirit claimed Florida State forward Tiffany McCarty, a St. John’s (D.C.) graduate and The Post’s All-Met Player of the Year in fall 2007.

Washington landed Virginia forward Caroline Miller, a two-time first-team All-Met from Walter Johnson, in the second round and Florida midfielder Holly King, the spring 2009 Player of the Year from Broad Run, in the third round.

Last week, the Spirit acquired U.S. national team defender Ali Krieger (Forest Park) and former Washington Freedom players Lori Lindsey (Virginia) and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

The Spirit will play home matches at Maryland SoccerPlex, beginning in April.