In Postseason, Fire Has United's Number

luciano emilio - d.c. united
Luciano Emilio, above, MLS's goal-scoring champion this year, and Jaime Moreno, the league's most prolific all-time scorer, participate in Tuesday's practice session at the RFK Stadium training grounds. (Lawrence Jackson - AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Given its history of postseason failure against Chicago, D.C. United would rather not contemplate the thought of being without forwards Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno for tomorrow night's playoff renewal against the Fire.

United has faced Chicago five times since 1998 and earned nothing better than a 0-0 tie. Chicago has scored 10 goals in those games, United none.

So it came as a relief to the club to see both Emilio, MLS's goal-scoring champion this year, and Moreno, the league's most prolific all-time scorer, participating in yesterday's practice session at the RFK Stadium training grounds. Neither is at full strength after getting hurt last Saturday -- Moreno is nursing an injury between the ankle and foot, while Emilio has a sprained ankle -- but both are scheduled to accompany the team to Chicago this afternoon.

"We still have a couple days to decide how much they will play," Coach Tom Soehn said.

Soehn did not allow reporters to observe the meaningful portion of yesterday's workout, but judging from his comments and those of other players, Moreno seems likely to start while Emilio's prospects are a little less certain.

"I am feeling better, so we'll see how it goes," Moreno said. "It's not there yet, but it's playoff time, so I have to be ready for it."

Emilio was receiving treatment after practice and not available for interviews, but according to Soehn, "he ran full out and had some ball work. He continues to make progress."

United needs them -- badly. Despite being the league's most decorated club with four MLS Cup championships, D.C. has been unable to find its way past the Fire in the playoffs.

In the 1998 title game, expansion Chicago beat a United squad considered the best in MLS history, 2-0. In 2003, returning to the playoffs after a three-year absence, United was ousted by a 4-0 aggregate score in a two-game, first-round series. Two years later, United earned a 0-0 tie in Chicago, but suffered a 4-0 loss at home.

"Chicago has given us some tough times in the last couple years, and I certainly haven't forgotten that," veteran midfielder Ben Olsen said. "I don't think those guys in the [D.C.] locker room have forgotten that either."

Said goalkeeper Troy Perkins, "We need to do the same thing they did to us and make sure that, when we come back here [for the second leg on Nov. 1], they don't have a chance."

No one associated with United has been able to explain why the club has had such a fitful time against Chicago in the playoffs. The teams' regular season series record is deadlocked at 12-12-7, and United has a 1-0-2 record against the Fire this year.

Moreno provided a sliver of enlightenment, saying that, in 2005, the Fire "came with the urgency to win and with the hunger we were missing that day. We have to show a different face this time."

A few goals will certainly help the cause, but without Emilio or Moreno, who have combined for 27 of D.C.'s 56 goals this season, United might have trouble scoring them. The three reserve forwards have contributed just two goals and four assists in 1,460 minutes.

Moreno's ability to hold the ball under pressure is vital, but Emilio's strength and instincts supply the goals. Soehn believes Emilio's work away from the ball are also critical, saying, "What he doesn't get enough credit for is how much pressure he puts the backs under, how hard he works defensively."

United Notes: Midfielder-forward Rod Dyachenko was cleared to practice after an MRI exam revealed no structural damage in his back. He took a hard fall against Chicago on Oct. 13.

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