Emilio Stuck in a Drought
Saturday, April 26, 2008
If Luciano Emilio had not scored the most goals in MLS and been named the league's most valuable player last year, his current scoring shortage probably would have been dismissed as just another striker going through a rough stretch.
But goals and awards raise expectations, and by failing to score in three of the first four league matches and in five of the past six outings overall, Emilio is being scrutinized for the first time since joining D.C. United 15 months ago.
"It's not an alarming situation," the Brazilian said through an interpreter yesterday as the club made final preparations for tonight's match against Real Salt Lake at RFK Stadium.
"Everyone goes through it, but I don't think we need to worry about it. I know there are a lot of expectations on me, but as a team we have not scored like we should."
By the second game, Emilio had picked up where he left off last fall by scoring twice against Harbour View during a 5-0 home victory in the Champions' Cup quarterfinals. But his only goal since that March 18 match came in the second minute of United's 4-1 rout of visiting Toronto three weeks ago.
In games against Pachuca (Mexico) and Columbus, he received crosses at close range and struck headers directly at the goalkeeper. The problems, though, have run deeper than his finishing touch. He has looked uncomfortable with the ball, unable to escape pressure and been slow in making decisions, which have led to breakdowns in United's sluggish attack.
"He is fighting the game a little bit, he wants to score so badly," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "It will come and when it does come . . . they are going to come in bunches."
Emilio endured droughts last year, as well. After scoring six times in the first six league and international matches, he went six games without a goal. He also had four- and six-game skids later in the season. Nonetheless, he became the first MLS player in five years to score 20 times in league play and the third D.C. star to win the MVP award.
"I just need to be patient," he said. "The overall play has me frustrated, not the ability to score."
He acknowledges he has received enough service from his teammates, "but the ones I have gotten, I haven't been able to finish."
Teammate Santino Quaranta, who has been in the spotlight since joining MLS seven years ago at age 16, sympathizes.
"If we win and Emilio doesn't score, it's not as big of an issue, but now that we're losing and he's not scoring, it comes back on our forwards," Quaranta said of United, which has a 1-3 MLS record and was eliminated in the semifinals of the Champions' Cup.