Emilio has changed D.C.'s fortunes
By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
Washington, DC (Sports Network) -
D.C. United's Luciano Emilio had just tapped in his first goal in more than a month on May 24 - one of the easiest goals of his career - and knew that night just how important it was.
"The team," Emilio said after his game-winner in a 3-2 win over Toronto FC, "is going to look very different from now on."
Not only is Emilio the most prolific goal scorer in Major League Soccer in the last two years, but he obviously has a knack for predicting the future.
Emilio, who led MLS with 20 goals last year, has broken out since ending a seven-game scoring drought. He's scored seven goals in his last five games, and United is unbeaten during that stretch with four wins and a draw.
"When Luciano does get one, they start to come in bunches and they're starting to come in bunches," D.C. coach Tom Soehn said.
The "one" came at just the right time.
Luciano Emilio has been on a scoring roll.
D.C. United had lost seven of its first nine games, a period during which Emilio had just one goal and was benched by Soehn. Obviously, it was strange to see Emilio, who just last year became the first MLS player since 2002 to score 20 goals in a season, sitting on the bench.
Rumors followed that D.C. was looking to unload Emilio, who was given a raise this season as one of the team's two designated players.
Whether the move by Soehn was an effort to spark Emilio, or just a decision he had to make with the player struggling, is unknown. Whatever the reason, it has worked out perfectly for Emilio, Soehn and United.
Emilio has quickly returned near the top of the MLS scoring list, trailing two players from the Los Angeles Galaxy, who lead MLS with 31 goals. If Emilio took penalty kicks - a job that United captain Jaime Moreno takes care of - he could easily be tied or ahead of Landon Donovan, who leads MLS with 11 goals.
"My confidence is very high right now," Emilio said.
Although the slow start was brutal, it wasn't exactly odd for Emilio. It's easy to forget that despite the 20 goals last season, just two came in his first eight games. That start cost him a spot on the all-star team.
Over the next 19 games, Emilio scored 18 times.
He won the MLS scoring title, was named MLS Newcomer of the Year and, oh yeah, MVP.
After the game against Toronto on May 24, Soehn felt he saw a different, more familiar player.
"He was more attentive and more alert, doing the things he did last year like following up plays." Soehn said.
It's funny what tapping in a rebound will do for a player and, in turn, a team.
Emilio also scored in his next two matches, including another game-winning goal in a 2-1 triumph at the Chicago Fire.
"He's causing a lot of havoc," Soehn said after a 2-2 tie with the New England Revolution in the first of those two matches.
The Brazilian followed those performances with a hat trick against Red Bull New York in a 4-1 win. It was his sixth career multi-goal game.
"I've got to keep working hard and focus and maybe next time," he said, "I'll score four."
Well, he couldn't quite live up to that but he did score again in his next game against the San Jose Earthquakes, a 3-1 win, to extend his scoring run to five games and D.C.'s unbeaten streak to five.
Emilio insists he's "been playing the same all along," with the only difference being United is "creating more chances now as a group."
Partially true, but Emilio was wasting a few of those chances early this year.
Emilio said he wasn't desperate to score during his drought, but it's obvious how much confidence that goal against Toronto gave the striker.
When Emilio hasn't scored this season, United is just 1-7. When he does score, D.C. is unbeaten at 5-0-1. Amazingly, in the last 19 matches Emilio has scored in, United is 15-1-3.
That's even more impressive than having 28 career goals less than halfway into your second season in the league.
"He's a good player," Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop conceded.
Let's just hope Emilio gets to display his skills at this year's MLS All-Star game.
He certainly deserves it.