As D.C. United's marquee offseason signing, Finnish international Markus Halsti looked set to join the club and make an impact from day one. Several years junior to Davy Arnaud, Halsti looked to step into United's midfield and provide an extra option alongside Perry Kitchen, in addition to being capable in all three spots along the back line.
But a knee injury suffered in February during pre-season meant that Halsti would have to wait for his Black-and-Red debut. And wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, after being an unused sub on Wednesday in the win against Orlando City, Halsti was given the nod in midfield on Sunday against the Philadelphia Union, besides Kitchen.
Halsti registered a solid, if unspectacular 80 minute outing, leaving the field with the game scoreless, in what ended up being a 1-0 victory for the Union.
For Halsti, it was a case of being relieved to have been able to finally play.
"A little bit nervous, at least in the beginning. Then you just have to get on it. It's great to play," he said after the match.
Halsti was part of a group that had five changes by manager Ben Olsen from the side that had beat the Lions earlier in the week. It was the third game in nine days for United, which meant the schedule necessitated the changes. Halsti was one of five changes to the side, and the group's struggles throughout showed for 90 minutes.
The former Malmo man played his role partnering Kitchen just fine. He finished the game completing 22 of 30 passes, completing one cross on a free kick, while registering two tackles, one clearance, and eight recoveries.
"It was pretty hard, because I haven't worked with Perry. At least two times we both went up and didn't protect the center halves. So there's a lot to work [on] in there. I would have been surprised if I had played a good game today."
After spending some time in the preseason at both center midfielder and center back, it was in the midfield spot where Halsti was given the opportunity on Sunday. And after being relegated to the sideline for the past three months, he was able to take in plenty about the league, and the style of play.
What he participated in first hand against the Union was par for what he had expected.
"I've had three months to work. The speed of the game was exactly what I was thinking [it was]. A lot of fighting, a lot 50/50 balls, so it was what I expected."
The night overall for United was one to forget. The fatigue, the changes to the squad, being forced to finish the game with 10 men after Luis Silva's injury, all culminated in a disappointing loss to a team that had won just one of their first 12 games of the season.
But while it was an off night for the Black-and-Red, it was the game plan of the Union that won the game for them, according to Halsti.
"We have to give [credit] to Philly. They had a pretty simple plan, with big guys up front. They were good with that they [did], long balls, fighting a lot," said Halsti. "They had a lot more chances today than we did, for sure. They deserved to win. They were just better than us today."
"I'm happy to play, but have a lot to improve."