CHARLESTON, S.C. – For the first 65-plus minutes of his D.C. United debut, Hamdi Salihi was quiet.
In fact, the D.C.’s newest Designated Player barely touched the ball, occasionally dropping deep into the midfield to get a touch or fighting to latch onto the rare service that found it’s way through the Chicago Fire defense.
But Salihi doesn’t need more than split second to do what he does best. And what the he does best is score goals, something the Chicago Fire won’t soon forget as the Albanian struck in the 66th minute to give United a 1-0 victory in the opening game of the Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday.
D.C. didn’t play particularly well – the Fire had a fourth-minute penalty saved and numerous scoring chances went begging – but all it took was one opportunity for Salihi to make the difference.
“I am very happy,” Salihi told MLSsoccer.com. “It is my first match with the team, and I score and we win. It’s good, but we have a lot to do. We are not the perfect team, but I am happy because we are in a good way and we are working every day. Step by step, we’ll be ready for the first match and look much, much better.”
But no matter what happens between now and March 10, it will be hard for Salihi to top the strike that gave his team a victory on Saturday night at Blackbaud Stadium.
As the striker made a run toward the corner of the penalty area, Ethan White drove a speculative ball over the top of the Fire back line. The ball dropped invitingly and Salihi wasted no time, shaping his body and hitting a dipping half-volley from just inside the box that Jay Nolly got a hand on but couldn’t keep out.
It was a sequence that happened in a flash, turning what could have been a forgettable debut into a memorable one and leaving Salihi's teammates duly impressed by his ability to make something spectacular out of something most wouldn’t even consider a shooting opportunity.
“Not a lot of people even think to shoot that ball, and he puts it in the back of the net,” Chris Pontius said after the match. “It’s a great finish and that’s why we brought him in here. One goal in one game; I think we’ll take that strike rate.”
Perhaps the player most likely to benefit from Salihi’s presence wasn’t on the field for the strike, but that didn’t keep Dwayne De Rosario, who was substitued after 58 minutes, from praising his new teammates following the match.
After a season spent making something out of nothing and dragging D.C. along with him, the 2011 MLS MVP can certainly appreciate Salihi’s willingness to attempt the audacious.
“Just for him to try that shot … I was happy for him,” De Rosario said. “For him to finish the way he did was good. It’s nice to see someone have those instincts in front of goal. I’m very pleased and looking forward to building our relationship on the field. It’s a great addition for us.”