WASHINGTON – Hamdi Salihi was a wanted man on the transfer market throughout January, making for some pressure-packed moments in the D.C. United front office as the European transfer window came to a close.
Out of contract with Rapid Vienna this summer, Salihi was in high demand for a winter move. As other teams closed in on what D.C. general manager Dave Kasper called his "No. 1 striker target," United remained firm on securing Salihi as the club's newest Designated Player.
"When a player is six months from his contract finishing, there's a mad scramble, because you can sign him to a pre-contract," Kasper told reporters on Monday in a press conference introducing Salihi. "The first thing we tried to do was sign him to a pre-contract to arrive in the summer. The way it was going, we decided not to proceed with a pre-contract and to try to get him now.
“He made it known he wanted to move in January so that's what we focused on. It took the whole transfer window. It was pretty tense, especially the last three days of the transfer window. There were a lot of rumors circulating."
Salihi had offers elsewhere in Europe, most notably in Scotland, where the financial problems that forced Rangers into administration helped steer him in a different direction.
"I had every day something new," Salihi said of his transfer options. "From Russia, Turkey, some clubs from Germany, but not big clubs. I was really close to Celtic and Glasgow Rangers, but they have really big problems with money. With everything I calculated in my head was that D.C. was the best opportunity."
D.C. couldn't be happier to land the 28-year-old striker with a gaudy goal-scoring track record (53 goals in 90 matches over his last three years at Rapid Vienna), and one the club believes is the culmination to the seemingly ever-lasting search for a prolific forward.
"It's an important piece for us," head coach Ben Olsen said. "We've been searching for the right No. 9 for this club for some time, and we think we’ve found it. Very rarely do we sign someone of this quality and this pedigree."
Salihi, the first Albanian player in MLS, arrived in D.C. on Saturday after finalizing the visa process. He took his physical over the weekend and jumped right into action, joining his new teammates for the first time on the training field on Monday
In a short time, Salihi made a good first impression. He delivered an impressive finish in a short-sided game before being paired up top with Maicon Santos on the team comprising first-choice starters in a full-field, 11-vs.-11 scrimmage.
“The first practice is always tough on a new team not knowing anyone, and I think he did well,” midfielder Chris Pontius said.
The timing of his arrival helps as well. One of Salihi's former teammates at Rapid Vienna, fellow Designated Player Branko Boskovic, had the disadvantage of signing with the club midseason, and the midfielder believes that getting Salihi integrated in the weeks leading up to First Kick will make all the difference.
“I think it’s a good time for him to come,” Boskovic said. “When I came [to MLS], it was the middle of the season. There was no time, everything happened so fast and adaptation and everything. For him, he has time to see the team, to meet everybody and to prepare for the beginning of the season.”