In First Season, Emilio Gets the 'Boot'

DC United's Luciano Emilio, here celebrating a goal against Chicago, is MLS' first 20-goal scorer in five years, making a compelling case that he should also be the league's MVP.
DC United's Luciano Emilio, here celebrating a goal against Chicago, is MLS' first 20-goal scorer in five years, making a compelling case that he should also be the league's MVP. (Lawrence Jackson - AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 20, 2007

Just before 1 a.m. yesterday morning, while his wife and young daughter slept in the family's Arlington apartment, D.C. United's Luciano Emilio checked his computer and discovered he was the MLS goal-scoring champion.

Not officially, just yet. There remains an infinitesimal chance that either New England's Taylor Twellman or Kansas City's Eddie Johnson will score five goals today to pull even. But even if that were to happen, Emilio "would score two more just to make sure," United teammate Bobby Boswell said.

The pursuit of MLS's Golden Boot all but ended the other night when New York's Juan Pablo ¿ngel missed several opportunities against host Los Angeles in his last regular season game to remain one goal behind Emilio, the Brazilian striker who has 20 entering United's finale tonight against the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium. Twellman and Johnson have 15 apiece with one match remaining.

The New York-Los Angeles game was on ESPN2, but Emilio said it would have been too nerve-racking to watch. So he turned on a Brazilian TV program instead and monitored the progress of the Red Bulls and Galaxy online.

"When a player wants to win something, it is best to relax and not worry about the pressure," he said yesterday in rapidly improving English. "I check the Internet sometimes, check the results, and when the game was finished, I thought, 'Ah, I win the Golden Boot.' I am very happy."

Emilio's goal total is the highest by a United player since Ra¿l D¿az Arce scored 23 during MLS's inaugural season in 1996. He would become the third D.C. player to lead the league in goals, joining Jaime Moreno (16 in 1997) and Roy Lassister, who finished in a three-way tie with 18 in 1999. The Golden Boot -- a prestigious honor bestowed in domestic leagues throughout the world -- has been awarded by MLS only since 2005. Before then, the league crowned a scoring champion, combining goals and assists. No one from United ever won that honor.

"I am so happy for him," said Moreno, MLS's career leader in goals with 112. "He worked very hard for it and, with all the goals he has scored, he has definitely put us in a good position."

Emilio, 28, joined United last winter after winning scoring titles in the Honduran league. He scored four goals in four Champions' Cup matches, which were staged before the MLS season started, then struck in each of the first two league games. After a six-week drought, he began to reassert himself as one of the league's premier strikers, and took charge of the scoring race with five goals in three games last month.

Emilio and ¿ngel, a Colombian in his first year in MLS, are the top candidates for the league's most valuable player award, and while Emilio will finish with more goals on a first-place club, ¿ngel will have more assists (five, to Emilio's one) and will have played in five fewer games.

United, though, got more for its money: ¿ngel is guaranteed nearly $1.6 million this year, Emilio just under $300,000. United officials say they will exercise the option on Emilio's contract in December, but in the wake of a scoring title, the club might end up boosting his salary. There remains the possibility of a European or Latin American club attempting to purchase his contract from MLS with a major transfer offer, but at the moment, Emilio does not foresee leaving.

"I work hard and everything else will come with it," he said. "Our concentration is on the playoffs and then after the playoffs, we can speak with the team. I am happy here, my family is happy too -- this time was good for us."

United Notes: Midfielder Josh Gros, already sidelined with concussion and migraine symptoms, had surgery Thursday on his left wrist, which he broke early this year. Gros, who suffered three head injuries in six months, was examined last week by a Massachusetts neurologist, who recommended he not play again this season. . . .

Moreno has returned from World Cup qualifying duty with the Bolivian national team and is available tonight. He played 58 minutes during a 5-0 loss at Uruguay and did not play in a 0-0 home tie with Colombia. Bolivia will next face Argentina and Venezuela in mid-November, but Moreno said he has been assured by Bolivian officials that, if United advances to MLS Cup the same week, he would not be recalled. . . .

A tribute match honoring former United star Marco Etcheverry will begin at 5:30 today, featuring Etcheverry and many of his teammates from the 1997 MLS Cup championship squad against Hollywood United, a collection of former players (U.S. striker Eric Wynalda and French defender Frank Leboeuf, among others) and celebrities, including actor Anthony LaPaglia.

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