- - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

As D.C. United toiled through a dark 2013 campaign, Luis Silva provided a much-needed bright spot.

Acquired in a July trade with Toronto FC, the young playmaker gave last-place United a jolt of creative energy. Despite only playing half the season, he still tied for the team’s scoring lead.

As one of the holdovers on a revamped roster this season, Silva figured to be a key cog in United’s turnaround bid. But after locking down his starting spot in preseason, Silva saw a late-March ankle injury sideline him for nearly a month.

When he returned, Silva’s place in the 11 was filled. It wasn’t until June 7 that he earned another start. Yet there was no bitterness. Considering United went 6-2-2 with Silva out of the starting lineup, the player figured he didn’t have much to complain about.

“I thought the team was doing well, without me and when I was coming off the bench,” Silva said. “It gives me encouragement to come out and give it my all to win a spot again. So it was a little bit tough, but it was a good challenge for me.”

As United went into Major League Soccer’s break for the World Cup last month, Silva offered a reminder of what he’s capable of. With forward Eddie Johnson sidelined for a trip to Montreal, Silva got the nod and proceeded to notch a first-half hat trick in United’s 4-2 triumph.

After finding net again in a 2-1 win at San Jose on Friday, the 25-year-old will look to maintain that scoring touch when first-place United (9-6-4) hosts Southern California-based Chivas USA (6-7-5) on Sunday.

“He’s up there with some of the better players I’ve ever played with in terms of his first touch and how he reads the game,” said 31-year-old United captain Bobby Boswell. “He finds good pockets and he usually makes the right pass when he’s given time. The last couple games, teams have really keyed in on him when he gets the ball … and that in itself has an impact on the game because it opens it up for other guys.”

If there’s a knock on Silva, it’s that he’s streaky. After scoring in three straight games last summer, he played 19 matches before finding net again. His numbers were similarly uneven during his season and a half with Toronto. While Silva is tidy on the ball and has a knack for picking out that killer pass, he is prone to drifting in and out of games.

“We’re still looking for more consistency,” coach Ben Olsen said, “as far as how much he can impact the game — staying busy, making sure he’s up to the speed of the game and the physicality — because from the technical side he’s a special player.”

Although Silva was used as a deep-lying playmaker earlier in the season, a knee injury to Fabian Espindola has seen him return to a more comfortable withdrawn forward role.

Filling the shoes of Espindola, an MVP candidate with seven goals and eight assists, is an imposing task. While Espindola is a dynamic presence who likes to float into wide areas and go at defenders, Silva is more of a traditional facilitator.

“Me and Fabi are two different players,” Silva said. “I just try to get out there and play my game. It’s a different style of game, but it’s been working so far.”

It’s a tribute to the club’s improved personnel that Silva has had to fight for minutes after starting all 13 of his appearances for United last season. But considering his production in recent weeks, it’s unlikely he’ll be battling for his place again anytime soon.

“The way he goes about his work has always been fantastic, whether he’s in or out,” Olsen said. “He’s a great kid, a humble kid and he works his tail off to get back in the side. When he’s called on, he has stepped up for this club so far.”