- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2012

At the end of their 2011 campaign, D.C. United had holes to fill — there was no doubt about it.

Although the club showed drastic improvement from a dismal season prior, it still missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.

As the offseason got under way, however, matters remained quiet on the player movement front. The team added a role player here, some depth there. But it did nothing that truly fired up the fan base.

That changed Thursday, when United announced the signing of decorated Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi as their second designated player. The 28-year-old comes to the nation’s capital after scoring 53 goals in 90 matches during three seasons with Austrian club Rapid Vienna.

“We are thrilled to have completed a deal to bring Hamdi to MLS and D.C. United,” United general manager Dave Kasper said. “He has one of the most impressive strike rates you’ll find and has shown he’s capable of scoring goals at every level in which he’s played. We believe strongly he will become another important piece for our team.”

Salihi, who will wear No. 9 for United, also has plied his trade in Albania and Greece. With Vienna, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound forward was the teammate of United’s other designated player, Montenegro international midfielder Branko Boskovic.

Over the course of 10 professional seasons, Salihi has bagged 163 goals in 289 matches. He also has nine tallies in 37 appearances for the Albania national team.

Reports out of Europe last month had linked Salihi to Scottish powerhouse clubs Rangers and Celtic after he was regularly relegated to the bench during the first half of Vienna’s 2011-12 league campaign.

Instead, Salihi will join a D.C. side that had been looking to replace the production of 11-goal-scorer Charlie Davies, who returned to French club Sochaux after his one-year loan to United expired at season’s end.

Salihi seems poised to start up top alongside MLS Most Valuable Player Dwayne De Rosario, with Boskovic occupying the playmaking role behind them.

Veteran Josh Wolff, second-year player Blake Brettschneider and recently acquired target man Maicon Santos are the other forwards on United’s roster.

In addition to Salihi and Santos, United this offseason have added center back Emiliano Dudar, right back Robbie Russell, and wingers Danny Cruz and Nick DeLeon.

United open their season March 10 against Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.

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