Short on goals, points and even healthy bodies, it washardly a secret that MLS stragglers D.C. United needed a bit of help.
But the identity of the capital club’s most imminentreinforcement nonetheless caused a major stir on Wednesday. In a move thatsurprised almost as many people inside the organization as outside, United havebrought former league MVP and Golden Boot winner Luciano Emilio back into thefold and could have him in uniform as early as Saturday against the New YorkRed Bulls at RFK.
“One of my buddies who’s a fan also, he sent me a text and Ididn’t believe it,” said D.C. midfielder Clyde Simms of his former teammate’sreturn. “But no, I think it’s great news. I felt like we needed another option[at striker] and Luchi’s been one of the best in the league at that in thepast. So hopefully we can get him in shape and get him back to the form he wasin a couple years ago.”
Emilio and United seemed to have split irrevocably over theoffseason, when the club gauged the Brazilian’s declining production againsthis hefty designated-player salary and decided not to exercise their option onhis contract.
The divorce turned rancid when Emilio sought to return toMLS this spring after a short stint in his homeland with Rio Branco, only forD.C. to bargain hard with the two teams --reportedly Philadelphia and Dallas --interested in trading for him.
“I am very frustrated with this situation," he told The Washington Post earlier this month.“I am not happy they are keeping me from working.”
But the Union, Emilio’s preferred destination, could notagree to terms with United, and on the field the D.C. attack stalled andsputtered even before enduring a rash of injuries ahead of a busy May. All thefactors prompted both sides to rethink their positions and hash out anagreement.
“Well, we were able to reach a deal that fits our cap. Thatwas the main consideration,” D.C. general manager Dave Kasper said onWednesday. “If you’d asked us two weeks ago if that was possible, it’s notpossible. Once a trade was not in the works, given our injury situation – plusa player who can be available right now – it was a no-brainer.”
Emilio, who owns a house in the Washington area and adaptedwell to life in the U.S., has done his part as well, accepting a substantiallyreduced wage package as part of a three-month deal. The arrangement gives “Luchigol” plenty ofmotivation and allows the Black-and-Red to re-evaluate their situation in July,when the international transfer window will offer further personnel options.
“It’s something that’s been in the works for a while and asfar as I’m concerned, it’s another attacking player that has scored more than40 goals in three years,” coach Curt Onalfo after United’s U.S. Open Cupplay-in victory over FC Dallas on Wednesday. “So I’m extremely pleased to havehim on our team.”
Emilio attended Wednesday night’s match and was in goodspirits when he met with the team beforehand, and both Simms and Kasperdismissed the idea that any bad blood might linger from the striker’s winterexit.
“No. Luchi’s a professional. He’s a smart guy that way,”said Kasper. “We had a coffee this morning at Starbucks and he said: ‘I’m gladI’m coming home.’ That seems to be the question I’m getting most often, but itcouldn’t be farther from the truth.”