DC's substitute strikeforce paying dividends
WASHINGTON -- Every coach prefers to have a variety of personnel options at his or her disposal: A deep squad represents priceless flexibility when it comes to playing styles, tactical tweaks and impact substitutes on game day.But adaptability often leads to complexity, and complexity can lead to headaches.Just ask Tom Soehn. During last Thursday's tightly-fought league match against New York, the D.C. United head coach looked down his bench and saw a former MLS MVP (Christian Gomez) alongside the league's all-time leading scorer (Jaime Moreno) eager to impact the game. But in order to get Moreno on the field in the second half, he had to withdraw another league MVP and Golden Boot winner (Luciano Emilio), who also happens to be United's designated player and leading scorer.Emilio has five goals to his credit in 2009 but hasn't scored since May 16. With the burden of expectations weighing heavy on his shoulders, he lost his temper when he was pulled off in the 66th minute, kicking a set of water bottles onto the pitch and earning a red card that will keep him out of United's match with the Chicago Fire this weekend."It's very difficult because everyone wants to play all the time, wants to enjoy the 90 minutes, but we have a lot of forwards," said Emilio on Tuesday."The coach thinks of what is the best for us. Sometimes I am under pressure because the coach, everybody is waiting for me, waiting because I won the Golden Boot, MVP, everything I have to do. I am under pressure all the time and I think if I have more time to score goals and play good, it's important for the team and it's important for me. When I can't stay on the field a long time, I worry about it."Soehn's decision was vindicated by Moreno's contribution that night, as the Bolivian legend helped coordinate his side's possession game and finished a late penalty kick to secure D.C.'s 2-0 win, while Emilio has accepted responsibility for his mistake. But the episode underlines the ongoing challenge facing United's third-year boss as he juggles roles and playing time for his diverse squad of proud, talented players.Moreno and Gomez are proven standouts, veteran leaders who could step straight into most first XIs around the league. Yet thanks to nagging injuries and United's host of gifted youngsters, both have had to accept substitutes' roles on several occasions this season."It's never an easy situation to get into," acknowledged Soehn this week. "We've used them in so many different ways and it's not just them -- everybody. Sometimes they're called on to start, sometimes they're called on to change the flow of the game and they did a pretty good job of injecting energy and keeping the ball."The duo offer D.C. a powerful weapon as "super subs," however, and Thursday is unlikely to be the last time Soehn uses them in such a capacity."When Tommy decides to put out a team like that and then bring us into the game, everybody has to be ready to show up in these kind of games. Every time we step on the field we try to do our job," said Moreno after the Red Bulls match. "We're here for the team. If the coach decides to put us on the bench, we have nothing to say. Just work and help the team. That's the reason we're here."Meanwhile, Emilio is undoubtedly keen to bear the brunt of the scoring load as he has in his previous two seasons. But the Brazilian has little choice but to accept that he may have to do so in fewer minutes as he jostles for playing time along with the rest of the Black-and-Red's talented frontline.Soehn's handling of the situation has earned praise from his charges, and his task will likely grow simpler as the dog days of summer arrive. Looking ahead, United will again wade into international competition in the months ahead and injuries and suspensions will inevitably take their toll as well."A starter can't ever feel like he's got a lock on his job, because there's so many different players who could play in that position," said Gomez. "Especially with the forwards, there's younger guys who are doing well whenever they come in, even if it's as a sub. So it promotes a healthy competition. I think it's good for the team."