By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Not so long ago, Luciano Emilio could not score and D.C. United could not win.
These days, no one in MLS seems to be able to stop either of them.
The Brazilian striker continued his torrid resurgence with his first MLS hat trick and United extended its unbeaten streak to four last night with a 4-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls before 18,622 at murky RFK Stadium.
Despite the absence of playmaker Marcelo Gallardo and top defender Bryan Namoff because of red card suspensions, United (5-7-1) offered another comprehensive attacking performance and overtook New York (4-4-3) for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
"I've been playing the same all along. The difference is that we are creating more chances as a group, and I've had more opportunities," Emilio said through an interpreter. "Now I have got to keep working hard and focus, and next time maybe I will score four."
Last year's scoring champion and MVP scored for the fourth consecutive match since a seven-game drought and increased his season total to seven. The beneficiary of sharp ball movement and constant threats, Emilio struck in the 23rd minute, in first-half added time and in the 59th as United scored four goals for the third time this season.
Defensive midfielder Clyde Simms added a rare goal for United and Dave van den Bergh contributed for the Red Bulls, who were without injured forward Juan Pablo Ángel and midfielder Claudio Reyna. Despite 12 corner kicks and some first-half opportunities, New York failed to win in Washington for the seventh straight time (0-5-2).
The degree of difficulty on Emilio's strikes was not particularly high -- all were within 12 yards and two came in the clear -- but United is not looking for artistry from him. Just goals.
"I said this before, when he does get one, it is going to come in bunches, and it is starting to come in bunches," United Coach Tom Soehn said.
With Gallardo out, United needed about 10 minutes to find a rhythm and begin linking passes. Pressure on the New York backline mounted as United attacked with confidence and flair, a characteristic that resurfaced May 29 at New England. Midway through the half, Emilio finished an exquisite sequence.
Santino Quaranta initiated it with an assertive central run, then delivered a diagonal ball into Fred's path on the right side of the box. Fred stung a one-touch cross for Emilio, who got behind Chris Leitch and thumped a four-yarder into the left corner.
Three minutes later, it was Simms's turn. With Jaime Moreno standing over a free kick in a dangerous position on the left side, the Red Bulls anticipated the ball being driven into the penalty area. Instead, Moreno touched it back to the unmarked Simms, who had ample time to line up his shot and drill a 25-yarder just inside the left post for just his second goal in 88 regular season appearances.
The Red Bulls stirred late in the half, but fast-closing defender Gonzalo Martínez spoiled John Wolyniec's free run into the box and United survived five corner kicks in rapid succession.
Then, on the final charge of the half, Moreno sprayed the ball wide to Quaranta, whose angled bid toward the far corner was slapped away by goalkeeper Jon Conway. Emilio controlled the rebound and banged a nine-yard shot into the right side.
Nine minutes into the second half, after Wolyniec's half volley hit the crossbar, van den Bergh tagged a low shot from just outside the area into the far corner. But with the Red Bulls committing extra players forward, United seized on its counterattacking opportunities. Five minutes after van den Bergh's goal, Emilio worked a two-on-one with defender Devon McTavish and completed the hat trick with a rising drive from 12 yards.
"We are working hard to get there," Emilio said, comparing this year's uprising to last season's MLS-best record. "I don't think we are there yet, but game by game, we are working together to get to that level where we were."
Besides Emilio, United received stylish performances from Fred, who played in central midfield in the second half and, at one point, kept the ball aloft with a series of touches off his hip; from Moreno (two assists); and from Quaranta, who departed at halftime with a mild hamstring injury.
"Once they get flying, it's tough to stop them," McTavish said. "I love watching them. I remember a couple times just catching myself laughing at Fred. He was on fire, and so was the rest of the frontline and midfield."
United Notes: Quaranta received a yellow card in the 28th minute, his fifth of the season, putting him over the league limit and forcing him to sit out next Sunday's match against San Jose. . . . Because of the suspensions to Gallardo and Namoff, Dane Murphy, a rookie midfielder-defender from the University of Virginia, made his first appearance on the game-day roster.