At Drought's End, D.C.'s Emilio Lets Slip a Slide
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Most of D.C. United's players were inside the visitors' locker room Saturday night after their 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire when Luciano Emilio arrived.
It was neither a normal nor a graceful entrance.
To celebrate his goal in the waning moments, a strike that continued his scoring resurgence and ended the club's nine-month winless streak on the road, Emilio raced into the smallish room screaming and slid across the wet floor in his cleats, like a child in socks gliding across a kitchen floor.
His journey ended when he crashed into a dry-erase board and landed in a heap of laundry, prompting his howling teammates to pile on.
"It was a moment of joy for our team given the current situation," the Brazilian striker said yesterday through an interpreter. "We've been really down on ourselves and I did that to cheer my teammates up and let them know that we lose together as a team, that there are down moments, but when we win, there are joyous moments."
Joy had been largely absent much of the season for both Emilio and United. While the club was descending into the cellar of the Eastern Conference, MLS's scoring champion and MVP in 2007 went without a goal between April 9 and May 21.
But with the game-winner against the Fire, Emilio extended his scoring streak to three games and helped United (4-7-1) stretch its unbeaten run to three (2-0-1) heading into Saturday's match with the New York Red Bulls, the first of four straight league games at RFK Stadium.
"You can see his mentality has changed and going back to what got him MVP last year," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "He was making sure when he had a one-on-one, he was going to take it to them. That is a little bit of a change from what he did in the past [when] he took the easy way out. Now he is taking it upon himself."
Emilio set up Jaime Moreno's goal midway through the second half by beating three defenders inside the penalty area and lashing a low shot on target. Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch stopped it but left the rebound for Moreno. Later, in the third minute of added time and with United short-handed, Emilio ran at two defenders before beating Busch to the near post from 17 yards.
Explaining his scoring drought, Emilio said: "Last year up to this stage, there were more clear balls played through up top. This year we haven't had as many chances, so that has obviously forced us individually to see what we can do on our own to try to create more chances."
His problems were also his own doing. He failed to convert clear opportunities and looked uncomfortable with the ball. Speculation surfaced that United would try to sell him to a Latin American club this summer, or simply dump his contract and pursue another foreign forward.
Soehn pulled him from the starting lineup at Chivas USA on May 17, a decision based on Emilio's ineffectiveness and a sore thigh. In hopes of inspiring him, the front office provided a pay raise.
"We all get frustrated at one point, but he knew that goals would come at the right time," Moreno said. "He doesn't have to get desperate, and working as hard as we've been working, things start paying off."
It culminated with goals against Toronto, New England and Chicago -- and a mad dash into a locker room.
"Luci is entertaining when things are going good, just like anybody," midfielder Santino Quaranta said. "I was a little surprised by that move. It was like a two-footed tackle and he just kept sliding. He needed a game like that -- badly. He carried us."
United Notes: Brazilian midfielder Fred missed practice yesterday to be with his wife, Deborah, who gave birth to their first child, Eduarda. . . . The draw for the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League, which brings together the top clubs in this region of the world, will be held today. United will learn one opponent and the other potential foes in its four-team group, which starts play in September.