Emilio, 'Gutsy' Tie Give Hope To United

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2008

At this crucial juncture of the MLS season, with injuries and losses mounting at substantial rates, D.C. United will gladly embrace any sliver of encouraging news.

So as a turbulent campaign threatens to unravel, United has taken comfort in the fact that it did not lose a difficult midweek match and that leading scorer Luciano Emilio might be able to play in this evening's road game against the surging Houston Dynamo.

With a narrow margin of error in its final three regular season matches, D.C. (10-14-3) is in vital need of both healthy players and victories as it pursues one of the final two playoff berths.

"At this point, we can't focus on who is out but who we have," United Coach Tom Soehn said yesterday. "We will continue to evaluate [Emilio] . . . but we have to look at the big picture and the guys who we know will be on the field."

United is without its three most creative players: Marcelo Gallardo (sprained knee ligament), Fred (strained hamstring) and Jaime Moreno (red card suspension). Emilio (hamstring) has missed the past three games -- one in the regular season, two in the CONCACAF Champions League -- but practiced all week and flew to Houston on Friday.

With the regular season taking precedence over the Champions League, Soehn left many of the usual starters at home when the team played Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica, on Thursday. A largely reserve lineup did not play particularly well but did show determination and resilience in earning a 2-2 tie on Rod Dyachenko's injury-time goal.

Emilio was among seven players who remained in Washington during the week and then met the Costa Rica group in Houston. Though Emilio's status is questionable, Santino Quaranta, Iván Guerrero, Clyde Simms, Bryan Namoff, Gonzalo Peralta and Louis Crayton are expected to return to the starting lineup.

"The league is about momentum, and you look for it anywhere you can," Soehn said. "There is some inspiration drawn from what the young guys were able to do in a difficult environment against a very good team. It was really a gutsy performance."

United could use some momentum. Winless in its past six league games and 1-7-3 in all competitions since Sept. 1, D.C. will need to be at its best tonight. The Dynamo, two-time defending MLS champion, is atop the Western Conference with an 11-5-10 record, 8-1-3 at home and 7-1-5 in its last 13 regular season matches. D.C. has never won at Robertson Stadium, dropping a pair of league games the previous two years and a 2007 SuperLiga game.

Houston boasts perhaps the deepest roster in the league and should not be severely impacted by the possible absence of leading scorer Brian Ching (12 goals, five assists). Ching was with the U.S. national team in Washington for last night's World Cup qualifier against Cuba and, although he is expected to be released back to his club, he probably would not play much, if at all, against United.

United Notes: Midfielder Quavas Kirk injured a foot in the second half of the Saprissa match and returned to Washington for further evaluation.

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