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D.C. United on the right track with Hamdi Salihi choice

Jan 18, 2013, 3:16 PM EST

Salihi head shot

Washington Post reporter Steven Goff has all the nitty-gritty today on the news that DP striker Hamdi Salihi is not in preseason camp and will not return to the club.

Long story short: The highly priced Albanian striker signed on with D.C. United less than year ago. United officials tried desperately to tell us this was a big deal and that Salihi was big part of the scoring solution at RFK. (A lot of us were quite underwhelmed with the signing, said so publicly, and had to go a few rounds with voices around RFK as a result. But that’s another story.)

Salihi started slowly and then, well, managed to slow down a little more. With just 6 goals in 22 games, he clearly was not DP striker material. Now United seems wisely intent on severing ties.

Now, for the “Long story very, very short:” United made a mistake. Today, they are copping to blunder and starting to repair the roster and salary cap damage. That’s it in a nutshell.

This really looks like an important step for United, where fans have an increasing body of evidence that things are moving the right direction and that daylight has finally broken through the darker days.

Teams make mistakes. All teams. It happens. Show me a club that hasn’t stumbled here and there on a personnel choice and I’ll show you a real life, walking, talking Sponge Bob Squarepants. See my point here? Those things don’t exist.

So a critical element of long-term club success is to acknowledge the boo-boos, cut those losses lickety-split, do so as economically as possible and then move happily on. The alternative is to allow hubris, ego and a stubborn desire to be “right” about someone to rule your choices – and then watch as bad things fall your way as the result.

Kris Boyd and Portland? Same deal.

Why keep a mistake around? Managers feel pressure to play the pricey “star,” but the players aren’t stupid. They know the deal. They quickly spot the teammate not getting the job done. What daily practice field incentive can really exist if lesser talented figures, or laggards who aren’t dong the hustle and cover work or aren’t performing the tasks emphasized during daily sessions keep getting the benefit of the doubt … and the minutes?

Fans can see the product, too. If someone not passing muster keeps playing, they lose faith.  And rightfully so, because something has gone wrong along the chain of personnel command.

Besides, in the end, it all gets rolled into the long-term Win-Loss record.

So good on D.C. United, who have some options now in how they untangle themselves from the poorly conceived Salihi deal.

Better to untangle now, however, than to be dragged to the bottom.

  1. wesbadia - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    There is always a certain amount of pride and zeal on the part of the club and its individuals when a new player is signed. As there should be. Otherwise, why sign the person? I don’t think anyone can fault a club for acting in that way; the defensiveness when criticism is leveled should be expected.

    The real contention should be with the insertion of mechanisms that create more uncertainty with player selection and acquisition. We know them when we see them. There is enough uncertainty about how a player will fit into a designated system. I don’t think anyone will disagree that the best player acquisitions occur when both parties are aware of the situation as much as is possible.

    • Steve Davis - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:36 PM

      I don’t necessarily disagree. I’m just saying, don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining, you know? If you sign someone with Salihi’s resume for $120K and then fit him into the rotation, brilliant! But if you sign him as a DP and then fight hard to justify the choice, trying to sell him to me as something more … well, I have an obligation to as a journalist to say “WHOA! … slow down there, hoss!” Or, something like that.

      • wesbadia - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:38 PM

        Don’t get me wrong, Steve! I should’ve been more clear. You, as a journalist, SHOULD be saying “WHOA!” when a choice like this is made. Part of your job as a journalist is keeping people accountable by bringing the situation to light. And I commend you for doing just that over the years. It’s one way I respect you.

        All I’m saying is that the clubs will always have that pride and zeal when a new signing is made. They’re always going to think that it’s the next revolution in our game. More often than not… it’s not. I think we, as fans, expect that. Sometimes it’s more surprising than others.

        I think what’s happening, though, is that clubs are still trying to grasp the concept of what a DP means and how it should work. It’s easy to sign a guy like Beckham or Henry or Kaka, etc and it work out perfectly. It’s quite another to sign someone like Mista, Salihi, or Boyd and expect the same. One flaw I see with the DP rules is that it creates a gray area for certain players (like the latter of which I mentioned) whom are slightly older and aren’t world-wide celebrities (like Beckham). Where do they fit? They’re too old for the Young DP Rule, and to make their salary tempting enough to bring them in, clubs tend to feel like they need to pay them at DP levels, which a lot of times they’re not worth.

        My opinion is that non-Young DP contracts should only be handed to guys with world acclaim (ie, Beckham, Lampard, etc) who would fit any system virtually and have the appeal to elevate the brand. Outside of those players, DPs haven’t really proven to work out well unless it’s a perfect fit in the system (Koevermans comes to mind), but this is creating more uncertainty via a mechanism instituted by the league.

        What’s the fix? I’m not sure, but maybe expanding the DP rules a bit to have an “intermediary” DP might work. It’d lower the salary requirement for DP status (say $275K?), but you’d only have two per team. I’ve seen smarter ideas than this along the same lines and they’d probably work better, but it’s an idea that might make someone like Salihi not be such a big bust like he was. No one wants to lose cash on a deal, especially as much as DC lost. Filling that grayish void with an intermediary category might convince more mid-level DP-type players to come to the league.

  2. 202thoughts - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    I feel this overstates how bad a choice it was to sign Hamdi. He didn’t have the work rate that Olsen finds to be most crucial in MLS. That doesn’t mean he’s not good enough. Without his goals off the bench, there would’ve been no playoff run in 2012. Good luck to him, whatever he does, he’s got a nose for the goal!

  3. packinblackandred - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    Steve, I agree that Salihi was a mistake for United, but not for the reasoning you’re presenting here.

    6 goals in 22 games sounds godawful for a DP striker, but it’s important to note how many minutes he played (only 945 according to the MLS site). Even without considering that a large chunk of his minutes were the last 10 of any given game strictly to kill it off, an average of 157.5 minutes/goal with no PKs is fine.

    It’s almost exactly the same as Robbie Keane (157.4 minutes/goal, with a PK included), is roughly similar to Alvaro Saborio (140.6 minutes/goal, with 3 PKs included), and far better than Fredy Montero (198.2 minutes/goal) or Sherjill McDonald (258.3 minutes/goal).

    This certainly isn’t the be-all end-all metric of a good MLS striker, but some context deeper than 6 goals in 22 games shows he wasn’t so bad. He didn’t fit in Olsen’s system and they were disappointed in his practice performance–still a mistake of a signing, but perhaps not so catastrophic as it seems at first glance!

    • wfjackson3 - Jan 18, 2013 at 6:16 PM

      Very nice comments. This is why I hate it when the goals per appearance number is used. It really doesn’t show how impactful someone is while they are in the game.

  4. joeyt360 - Jan 19, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Yeah, the consensus among DC Untied fans is that he was still one of the best players on the team, skill-wise, he just didn’t fit into the style the coach wanted the team to play.

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