Luciano Emilio returns to D.C. United, but for how long?

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 1, 2010

In D.C. United's locker room, Luciano Emilio is a charming character whose sense of humor and off-key singing lightens the mood and endears him to teammates. Behind the scenes, the Brazilian striker is a shrewd businessman who drives a hard bargain and carefully manages his career.

Case in point: Although he re-signed with United this week, agreeing to a three-month contract that includes a club-held option to extend the deal through the end of the year and beyond, Emilio seems to have one eye on Mexico.

"I work because I love to play soccer, because I want to help D.C. United, but if I don't play, I can't have another opportunity to play in Mexico," he said Friday. "It's my dream to play in Mexico in the first division. If I stay home [in Brazil], it is difficult to negotiate something like this, but if I stay active, it is good for me to get the contract that I want. If [United] still wants to keep me after July, it's a good [situation], too."

Emilio, 31, wouldn't identify his possible destination -- "I don't want to say anything about the situation because I have to concentrate on D.C. United" -- and no one associated with United could corroborate his claim. But the reaction was the same: That's just Emilio being Emilio.

For now, the 2007 MLS most valuable player is essentially on an extended tryout. His assignment is to rediscover his eroded scoring touch, restore a menacing presence in the club's tame attack and help reverse a sour start to the season. At 0-4 entering Saturday's 4 p.m. game against the New York Red Bulls at RFK Stadium, United is the only club in the 16-team league that has not earned a point in the standings.

If Emilio is effective, United might have a difficult time deciding whether to retain him. By exercising the option, the club would have to boost his salary and guarantee his contract for 2011 -- a stipulation that he demanded during negotiations.

If he does not produce, or if United identifies a better option on the international market this summer, Emilio could be traded to another MLS club or become a free agent and end up in Latin America.

Regardless of what occurs, it will add to a strange saga that began over the winter, when Emilio and United seemingly parted ways after failing to reach agreement on a new contract.

Emilio (41 league goals in three MLS seasons) then went to play for Rio Branco in Brazil on a short-term contract, but all the while was looking to return to the United States, where he has legal permanent residency and owns a house.

United retained his league rights, and after failing to work out a trade and then watching its attack score just two goals in four matches while injuries accumulated, talks resumed.

"He is a lethal forward that, when given the opportunity, knows how to bury the ball," United Coach Curt Onalfo said.

After being shut out in three of four league matches, United showed promise Wednesday with a 4-2 victory over FC Dallas in a U.S. Open Cup preliminary-round game. Adam Cristman scored twice, bolstering his claim to start again Saturday.

Because Emilio has not played competitively in more than a month, Onalfo will use him in a reserve role against the first-place Red Bulls (4-1).

"He knows how to score goals," captain Jaime Moreno said. "He has done it before, and hopefully he can help us turn this thing around."

United notes: The club acquired reserve midfielder Stephen King (Maryland) from the Seattle Sounders for a 2011 second-round draft pick and released midfielder Tiyi Shipalane and defender Lyle Adams. . . .

In the only doubleheader at RFK this year, the Washington Freedom will face St. Louis Athletica in a Women's Professional Soccer match at 6:30 p.m. In 2009, United and the Freedom held three doubleheaders. . . .

United's negotiations with English club Blackburn Rovers to play a friendly in August have fallen through, prompting United to explore other options. D.C. has already announced exhibitions against AC Milan on May 26 and Glasgow Rangers on July 24.

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