By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There was hardly any fanfare when he came on the field, but Omar Salgado’s 16-minute substitute appearance on Saturday night at the Columbus Crew was more than just a late-game cameo.
It was his first appearance in one and a half years.
The former No. 1 overall pick for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS SuperDraft has been snake-bitten by successive right foot fractures, keeping him off the field since June 2012, save for a short appearance in October 2012 before he re-aggravated the injury then and again in 2013.
After being sent to the Whitecaps USL Pro affiliate Charleston Battery in March, Salgado worked hard and earned a place on the Whitecaps first-team, leading to his return on Saturday in central Ohio at the same stadium where he scored his first MLS goal.
“It’s great for him,” Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson said. “He’s had it tough as well and he’s fought his way back. He’s been down to Charleston and I re-called him back into the squad and I want him to be part of this squad because he has got a lot to offer.”
While he still lacks match fitness, Salgado nearly made his return a special one as he came just inches away from scoring a goal in the 88th minute. Salgado displayed his exceptional speed for a player who is 6 foot 4 inches tall and was clear through on goal. As Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark came off his line, Salgado chipped the ball over Clark and watched as it curved just inches wide of the far post.
But while he nearly scored, his head coach Carl Robinson was equally happy for a clearing header in the box Salgado made in stoppage time with his team on the ropes.
“He could have put the icing on the cake with the super finish that would have made it 2-0, but more importantly for me was Omar’s header in the last minute,” Robinson said. “(Crew playmaker Federico) Higuain can deliver one of the best ball’s in the league, he really can, and I’ve got Omar, my center forward, who missed a chance, heading the ball away in the six yard box and that’s as good as a goal for me.”
Salgado’s return ended a 566-day absence from MLS play, and the 20-year-old American forward was just glad to finally be back on the field. Hopefully Saturday’s appearance was the first of many in a long career.
“It’s been a long road back,” Salgado said. “Two years (injured) is a long time in the world of football, it’s just a happy moment for me to be on the field again.”