ORLANDO, Fla. -- Playing his first competitive match in nearly six months after recovering from a series of hamstring injuries, D.C. United forward Luis Silva entered his club’s scoreless encounter with Orlando City on Friday night looking to generate a spark.
He did not have to wait particularly long to get an opportunity to do so.
In the 91st minute — just 16 minutes after entering the match — Silva lined up over a free kick some 22 yards from goal. To his right was fellow forward Chris Pontius, not a bad kick-taker in his own right. But Silva would be the one to send the ball goalwards.
“I didn’t even think of taking that kick,” Pontius told MLSsoccer.com after the match, chuckling. “That was Luis’ all the way.”
Silva struck a dipping free kick that eluded OCSC’s wall, skimming off the fingertips of an outstretched Donovan Ricketts and settling just inside the near post. Just seconds after the goal, the freshly-rehabbed forward was sprinting towards his teammates on the bench, celebrating the 1-0 game-winner en masse.
“[My teammates] know what I’ve been through,” said Silva after the match. “Obviously all of those guys have had their own injuries. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while with all of my injuries -- I think [now that I’m recovered] it’s all mental and the staff has done a great job of getting me healthy. I just tried to head out there and have fun and play my game. To be able to get that goal and those three points, I’m obviously very happy."
"They were throwing such heavy numbers at us,” added United head coach Ben Olsen. "Luis is a guy that does such a great job underneath exploiting teams and finding goals. That was the thinking on [bringing him in].
"And of course, I whispered in his ear as he was headed out there to take the free kick to put in the goal,” Olsen joked. “I’ll take credit for that."
Orlando did indeed throw numbers at D.C. and in no way looked content to settle for a draw, let alone a loss. D.C. struggled to maintain possession throughout the game's opening thirty minutes — “We were not good enough on the ball in the first half at all,” said Olsen. “Overall we obviously have a lot of work to do.”
In the game’s final stanza, Orlando pressed even harder, peppering D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid with shots from every angle imaginable. But time and time again the USMNT shot-stopper pushed those efforts away from goal — though Silva’s late-game magic will perhaps prove the more memorable highlight, his strike would likely have meant little had Hamid not played so well.
“This just doesn’t surprise me that much anymore,” said Olsen. "You’ve seen these kinds of performances from Bill frequently, in particular last year. Look, we’re going to rely on our field players and goalkeepers -- they’re all going to have to have great individual performances over the course of a season. Tonight, Bill had a very good night.
“Hopefully we don’t have to do what we did tonight consistently, because more times than not you’ll lose that game. But I’m not going to apologize for getting out of here with three points."