- - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

When Luis Silva went down with a right hamstring strain in mid-October, the prognosis called for a four- to six-week recovery — a brutal blow for D.C. United, with implications that only grew more grim with time.

Without Silva, top-seeded United crashed out of the Eastern Conference playoffs early. After an offseason of recovery, Silva found inactivity created calf and quad issues that slowed his progress. Then, during a preseason trip to Texas, he aggravated the same hamstring.

When all was said and done, Silva spent 25 weeks on the sidelines.

“It’s tough because you spend the whole offseason trying to get healthy, trying to get fit,” Silva said. “I thought I was fit before preseason, I thought I was in good shape — then there is another little setback. It’s tough mentally.”

Given just 14 minutes to make an impact in his return to the field Friday, Silva didn’t disappoint. With United and host Orlando City heading toward a scoreless draw, the attacking midfielder stepped up with a stoppage-time free kick that got past the wall and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.

Just like that, United (3-1) had a last-gasp 1-0 win for the second consecutive week — and an early place atop the conference standings.

“Coming into a game, I always have that mentality that I’m going to score, that I’m going to have that one chance,” Silva said. “It was kind of like a dream come true. You don’t imagine it. But it felt good to be able to help out the team.”

Now in his fourth MLS campaign, Silva is looking to build off a breakout 2014 season that saw him notch 11 goals and four assists in 27 games with 22 starts. Acquired in a 2013 trade with Toronto FC, the UC Santa Barbara product brings creativity and finishing prowess needed by a United team with just three goals in four games.

“It adds another piece to what makes us good,” midfielder Davy Arnaud said. “Getting him back, he adds a little bit of a different dimension from some of the other guys that we have.”

With Silva working his way toward full fitness and striker Fabian Espindola, who had 11 goals and nine assists in 2014, set to serve the final two games of a six-match suspension, United’s attack is set for a welcome boost.

Barring any setbacks, United will have every key contributor back from the conference’s second-highest scoring offense in 2014 — plus veteran Chris Pontius, who missed most of last season through injury, and offseason additions Jairo Arrieta, Michael Farfan and Miguel Aguilar.

“We’re going to see who we are,” coach Ben Olsen said. “I don’t know who we are in a month and a half. I don’t know who is starting for this team. It’s exciting because I like the options that we have currently and I like some of the options that will be coming back. That will be a very good problem to have.”

Added Silva: “We’re all competing for a spot, we all want minutes. When Fabi comes back, he’s going to help out the team as well. We’re just going to have more players that are hungry and want to win.”

After missing both matches of the playoff defeat to the New York Red Bulls in November, Silva will likely come off the bench Saturday when United’s rival pays a visit to RFK Stadium.

It’s still a limited role for Silva, but one he’s happy to play after nearly half a year away from the field.

“I’m the type of player that never takes a game or practice for granted,” Silva said. “I’m always thankful and blessed that I get to do this job, and every time I step on this field I try to give it everything I have.”

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