By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007
D.C. United needed three years to persuade Luciano Emilio to sign with MLS. The club needed just one season to be convinced that its quest was well worth it.
Emilio's 20-goal maiden season was rewarded yesterday when the league presented him with its most valuable player trophy, the second consecutive year a United star has claimed MLS's top award.
Although final voting results were not made available, league officials said Emilio narrowly edged New York striker Juan Pablo Ángel, who also finished second in the goal-scoring race with 19. Chicago's Cuauhtémoc Blanco was a distant third. Emilio didn't have to travel far to pick up the award, which was announced downtown in advance of Sunday's MLS Cup at RFK Stadium.
"For me, my first time here, I am so happy," said Emilio, 28, a Brazilian striker whose nomadic career took him to Germany, Honduras, Mexico and back to Honduras before accepting United's offer last winter.
Emilio made an immediate impact, scoring four goals in a preseason international tournament and one in each of the first two regular season matches. After going scoreless for almost two months, he heated up and helped United finish with the best record for the second straight season. He was the first MLS player to score 20 goals in a season since 2002 and finished with the second most in club history.
The ankle injury he suffered in the regular season finale limited him to the final 12 minutes of the playoff opener against Chicago, and he did not appear to be at full strength in the second leg despite playing all 90 minutes. United lost the series on a 3-2 aggregate score.
"We had high expectations and he exceeded them," said United General Manager Dave Kasper, who had been tracking Emilio since he became a top scorer with Olimpia of Honduras. "We knew what he was about, and once we saw him at those first training sessions, we got a good feeling about what he was going to do."
None of Emilio's goals came on penalty kicks, compared with five by Ángel. Emilio ($293,000) also produced more for the money than Ángel ($1.59 million), a Colombian who left the English Premiership to sign with MLS last spring.
United plans to exercise the option on Emilio's contract, which means he is certain to return to the club next year unless the club and league receive a substantial offer from overseas.
Asked if he wanted to remain with United, Emilio said: "I think so. We speak next week about next season, but I don't have a problem. I like Washington, D.C., the team is a big team in the United States, and I think I stay here."
Christian Gomez, United's Argentine playmaker, won the MVP award last year. The only other previous D.C. player to be so honored was Marco Etcheverry in 1998.United Is Scouting Abroad
Kasper and United Coach Tom Soehn have returned from Argentina, where they "started the scouting process to follow up on some players we've been tracking and to see if it makes sense to acquire anyone for '08," Kasper said. He declined to identify any of the club's possible targets, but did say about a half-dozen players are on the radar.
United officials are planning to return to Argentina and make a stop in Brazil and other Latin American countries in the coming weeks.
Kasper would not comment on United's pursuit of Argentine superstar Juan Sebasti¿n Ver¿n, but a source familiar with the situation said the club is very much in the running. "He wants to come, sooner rather than later," said the source, who requested anonymity because of the delicate nature of negotiations. . . .
United has resumed discussions with Gomez's representatives and Kasper said "we would like to have a resolution by mid-December so we can plan accordingly."
Gomez's contract expires Dec. 31. The sides ended talks last spring after Gomez rejected a reported two-year, guaranteed deal with a base salary of $325,000. It is unclear whether the offer has been revised. If Gomez does not re-sign, he would be free to sign anywhere in the world. He has apparently attracted interest in Latin America and the Middle East.Another Cup?
United is set to play in the Champions' Cup again early next year, but with CONCACAF seriously exploring a European-style Champions League, there is a possibility clubs such as United and MLS Cup finalists Houston and New England could compete in another regional tournament late next year. .