WASHINGTON — When Hamdi Salihi landed with D.C. United four months ago, he was expected to start and score from the word go. After all, United had fended off interest from Scottish giants Rangers and Celtic to land a goalscorer they hoped would fill the offensive void left by Charlie Davies, who notched 11 goals in the 2011 campaign.
Those shoes initially proved a difficult fit for the Albanian, as he found numerous ways to not score his first MLS goal through the team’s first nine games. Salihi was the victim of the crossbar, the post, amazing saves from keepers and a couple of easy misses.
“Normally when you don’t score, you are angry with yourself,” Salihi told reporters after practice on Tuesday. “You lose a bit of confidence, but I always try to believe in myself, and wait for my moments. And I knew when the first goal came, the second, third, and fourth ones would be easier.”
His breakthrough finally came on Wednesday night, in the 5-3 loss to San Jose. Coming into the match as a substitute, Salihi placed a delicate chip over Quakes keeper Jon Busch in the waning moments of the game.
“To score is never easy. It is always difficult, and when you score it doesn’t matter how you do it,” Salihi added. "A goal is a goal, and you are happy always."
The strike against San Jose didn’t mean much in terms of the result of the game, but it clearly gave Salihi confidence going forward. He entered as a substitute in the game three days later against Toronto FC, but came on with United holding a slender 1-0 lead against the winless Reds. He made the most of his one true chance in the game, guiding home an acrobatic shot to hand United an unassailable 2-0 lead.
“This is something that will give you more confidence,” Salihi said. “Toronto was playing good, and they were [putting] pressure on us. 1-0 is much different than 2-0.”
What remains to be seen is whether or not Salihi has done enough to find his way back into the starting lineup. At the beginning of the season, Salihi lost his spot — partially due to his inability to find the back of the net, but also due to the emerging partnership of Maicon Santos and Chris Pontius. But with the Albanian’s ability to maximize his chances, D.C> head coach Olsen may just be forced into rethinking his striker rotation.
“I think we’re seeing now what he’s about,” Olsen said of Salihi. “He doesn’t need many opportunities to score goals. Forwards are streaky, and they go through runs, and they’re human so they go through confidence issues, [but] he’s done great. He wants more. He wants to play more, and I don’t blame him, and he’s making me make some tough decisions.”
GOAL: Salihi breaks his drought with deft touch