By THOMAS FLOYD
With Thursday's acquisition of Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi as their second Designated Player, D.C. United is making one thing abundantly clear: After spending the past few seasons breaking down and rebuilding an aging roster, this team is once again ready to win now.
United, who have missed the playoffs four seasons in a row, have retained nearly all of their key contributors from 2011 while reinforcing their roster with role players such as right back Robbie Russell, centerback Emiliano Dudar, wingers Danny Cruz and Nick DeLeon and striker Maicon Santos.
By also adding Salihi, a forward who notched 53 goals in 90 matches his past three seasons with Austrian side Rapid Vienna, the club has now given reigning MLS Most Valuable Player Dwayne De Rosario an accomplished true striker to play off.
"Hopefully he can bring that same scoring touch here in America," De Rosario said. "We're going to do what we can to welcome him in, make him feel as comfortable as possible. Hopefully he jells sooner than later. But it is going to take some time before he settles in — it's a different league, different lifestyle."
Midfielder Branko Boskovic, who played with Salihi in Vienna, gave a quick scouting report on the 28-year-old forward: "He's very dangerous in the box. He can play with his head, left [or] right foot."
Here are some more notes from D.C. United's preseason:
DE RO CONTRACT TALKS CONTINUE
Negotiations to extend De Rosario's contract with United past this season, the final year on his current deal, are "moving forward," the Canadian international said.
De Rosario has said he would like to end his career in D.C., and United president Kevin Payne has pointed out he believes the 33-year-old midfielder-forward has several good years left in him.
"D.C. is being very helpful, I must say, in terms of keeping me up to date," De Rosario said. "This is something I would liked to have been resolved a long time ago. But we're moving in the right direction."
The club has a press conference scheduled for Monday, during which coach Ben Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper are expected to address the club's personnel, roster and preseason. Pending a resolution over the weekend, De Rosario's looming contract situation is sure to be the hot topic.
Forward Blake Brettschneider was a surprise contributor in his rookie season, making the roster and earning valuable minutes as an unheralded supplemental draft pick. His time with the club came to a sudden halt Friday, as he was waived by the team.
With the additions of Salihi and Maicon Santos and other attacking pieces that make Chris Pontius a potential candidate for forward minutes in addition to his duties on the wing, Brettschneider became expendable.
Brettschneider had a goal and two assists last season, with both assists coming in a wild, 3-2 victory at Portland.
ZAYNER AMONG TRIALISTS RELEASED
United announced trialists Jed Zayner, Charles Rodriguez and Sebastian Svard have been released from camp. Zayner, the team's 2010 Defender of the Year and opening day right back last season, was limited to four appearances in 2011 because of hamstring and knee injuries.
Rodriguez, a centerback out of Charlotte, was the team's third-round supplemental draft pick, while Svard, 29, was a journeyman holding midfielder and product of Arsenal's youth system.
Goalkeepers Andrew Dykstra and Josh Lambo, midfielders Ryan Richter, Seth C'deBaca, Marcelo Saragosa and Lance Rozeboom and forward Stefan Jerome remain as trialists listed on the club's preseason roster. General manager Dave Kasper has said additional trialists will join the squad in Arizona, where it will train Feb. 6-16.
ON THE MEND
United have good news on the injury front, as De Rosario (calf) and DeLeon (quad), who both missed D.C.'s first scrimmage against Sunday before playing Thursday against Swedish club FC Malmo, said they are fully recovered from injury.
In addition, forward Josh Wolff (foot stress fracture) said he should be back on the field for full training next week in Arizona, and midfielder Chris Pontius said he has made more progress than expected in recent weeks while recovering from a broken leg suffered in September. Pontius is targeting a return to full training about a week before United's March 10 opener against Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium.
HAMID FEELING STRONG
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who stayed busy during the past few months while training with English side West Brom and then representing the U.S. national team, praised U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's insistence that his players pursue offseason training stints.
"I now know why he said that, because I'm coming in here for preseason and I'm feeling really good, really sharp," Hamid said.
Looking ahead, the 21-year-old quickly dismissed the notion that upcoming international obligations, such as Olympic qualifying with the Under-23 national team, might be a distraction to him during the MLS campaign.
"That's not a distraction — that's motivation," he said. "That's something that makes me want to work harder. And me working harder, that makes me play better. When I bring it back here, I just want to be the best player I can be for the teammates here."