Emilio is an imperfect player to be sure. He's not particularly fast, and painfully slow with the ball at his feet. He's not a good receiver and distributor of the ball. His first touch is particularly poor. It's downright ugly in fact. Roy Lassiter had a better first touch than Luciano. Making matters worse other teams have figured out that Emilio will cough up the ball if they collapse on him when his back is to the goal. On the surface all of these factors appear to have combined to send the Brazilian striker and his DC United teammates, who are counting on his goal-scoring ability, into a slump.
So the main reason that United is off to a 1-3 start and crashed out of the CONCACAF Champions Cup is that their star forward is washed up now. Trade him away for a sack of potatoes, a conditional draft pick and a case of Sierra Mist, right? Or so it would seem to some.
Let's face it. If Luciano Emilio were the player that many people expect him to be, he wouldn't be playing in MLS. If he was blazing fast like Lassiter was, had the touch of Jaime Moreno, the distribution skills of Marcello Gallardo and could score 20+ goals a season, he'd be playing for Inter Milan, Bayern Munchen, Real Madrid, Manchester United, or Palmeiras. The fact is that Emilio is the same player he was a year ago, good bad, and ugly. He's the same player that lit up this league last year and took MVP honors in spite of all of these weaknesses.
It's not Emilio's fault that he's been marginalized and contained this season. It's true that he could do his part to improve his skills with the ball and make some adjustments, but the issue here' is the type of service he's getting, and it's consistently all wrong. The team has to learn how to play to his strengths and away from his weaknesses. Emilio is a finisher, a shot taker, a poacher, a clean up the garbage and bury the ball in the net guy. He's not a player that you want touching the ball as often as Moreno or Gallardo. As we've seen so far this year, that's been a steady recipe for frustrating turnovers. Luciano needs to be getting the ball when he's facing the goal, not when his back is to it. Now if this requires him to get on his horse and move to open space, then so be it. But what we've seen this season has been a team content to continue feeding the ball to a player of limited ball control skills regardless of how many turnovers come as a result.
At some point this becomes a larger tactical issue and not simply a player issue. If the team is intent on working the attack through their target striker, then they need to find one who can receive, possess, and effectively distribute the ball. Luciano Emilio is not this player. He's a goal scorer, and a pretty good one, given a chance. Simply put DC United needs to figure out how to use last year's most valuable player.