Emilio, Moreno on Course to Start

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

For the second consecutive morning, D.C. United Coach Tom Soehn conducted the majority of his training session behind a closed gate, presumably to keep the progress of MLS scoring champion Luciano Emilio and his recuperating ankle under wraps.

But when the doors swung open for the final stage of practice yesterday, Emilio offered a glimpse of his progress and reasons to believe he will be back in the starting lineup tomorrow night when United faces the Chicago Fire in the finale of their two-game, first-round playoff series at RFK Stadium.

During a shooting drill, Emilio thumped the ball with the precision and power that brought him 20 goals during the regular season. One attempt streaked into the upper left corner, another fractionally wide of the top right spot.

He jogged with his teammates at a routine pace, the ankle ailment that limited him to 12 minutes in the opener last Thursday barely evident.

"For Thursday, I won't have a problem," the Brazilian striker said. "It's much better."

Emilio was injured during the second half of the regular season finale against Columbus on Oct. 20. Although he usually relies on his right foot to shoot, his left leg is vital for stability and balance -- not to mention 90 minutes of running and badgering defenders.

Jaime Moreno, United's other starting forward who played only one half last Thursday because of a foot-ankle injury, also is on course to start.

"We've managed it well," Soehn said. "We've built it up this week to where I think Thursday they are both going to be where we need them to be to play."

United, MLS's top goal producer during the regular season, needs all the offensive options it can muster. The club has never scored against Chicago in six all-time playoff meetings and has just three goals during a current five-game winless streak that began with a 1-0 Copa Sudamericana loss at Chivas Guadalajara on Oct. 2.

In the opener against Chicago, while rookie Guy-Roland Kpene started in Emilio's slot, Soehn added a second defensive midfielder (Brian Carroll) to replace Moreno instead of using another player from his unproductive reserve ranks. Playmaker Christian Gomez played a hybrid role between Kpene and the midfield, but United rarely tested goalkeeper Matt Pickens.

"The qualities [Moreno and Emilio] bring and the talents they bring make us a better team," Soehn said. "We're excited to get them back on the field."

The 1-0 loss to the Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., left United in need of a one-goal victory tomorrow to force a 30-minute overtime and, if necessary, penalty kicks in the total-goals series. A victory in regulation by two goals or more would send United to next week's conference final against the New England Revolution or New York Red Bulls.

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