Striking Difference?

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.

5 replies
  1. Bootsy
    Bootsy says:

    I posted this over on BigSocceer; but I dunno if you read BigSoccer so decided I’d post it here.

    Anyway, I spent most of my time agreeing with this article — right up until the end, when you wrote "Simply put DC United needs to figure out how to use last year’s most valuable player." I don’t agree. I think it’s the other way around — it’s Emilio who needs to realize how he can best contribute.

    You’re 100% correct that Emilio was, and is, "a finisher, a shot taker, a poacher, a clean up the garbage and bury the ball in the net guy." I agree completely. But in order to clean up the garbage, there has to be garbage to clean up. In order to poach goals, there has to have been a situation that leaves Emilio with that golden opportunity. Last year, it was Christian Gomez that created those situations. He unbalanced defenses, took audacious shots that got parried away, hit crossbars, and created space for the pass to Emilio. We don’t have that anymore, so it’s not going to happen that way anymore.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that Gomez is better than Gallardo. That’s not my point at all. My point is that Gallardo’s style of play does not create the kind of situations that Emilio capitalized off of last season.

    So assuming we’re not getting rid of either Gallardo or Emilio, either Gallardo has to change his game, or Emilio does. The former doesn’t make much sense: we spent a lot of money bringing him in, and it doesn’t make sense to do that to then work on transforming him into Christian Gomez. As for the latter, I agree completely that having Emilio post up at the top of the 18 yard box is a recipe for turnover casserole. Instead, he needs to be moving moving moving all the time, creating space and then being ready to run onto passes that Gallardo sends through. That hasn’t happened. In fact, Gallardo’s tried to make it happen — but Emilio isn’t moving off the ball well, and doesn’t make the runs.

    What does Emilio needs to do? Practice with Gallardo outside of practice. Eat with him, drink with him, sleep with him, and practice constantly with him, until he knows Gallardo well enough to know what Gallardo’s going to do well before it happens. To that end, I’m terribly disappointed that Emilio came into camp out of shape, and terribly disappointed at the level of effort he’s shown for the most part — he doesn’t seem to realize that the situation has changed, and he has to adapt to it.

  2. Martin
    Martin says:

    Thanks for the comments Bootsy – we’re well aware of the comment system – rolling out a new site in the next week or so with an imporved version that will address exactly what you bring up…


  3. Mike M
    Mike M says:

    Good comments Bootsy.

    I agree that Emilio needs to do a lot more off the ball than he is now and that would help tremendously. But I also think Gallardo needs to adjust more too, and he may well be on the way to doing that.

    This is MLS, he can push forward more and stay higher more than he does. He did more of that against the Crew, and Harbour View in RFK too for that matter. When those teams packed it in, he took the space they were offering. But, he needs to do way more of that in my opinion.

    He’s not Gomez, of course, but he should push things a bit more. Bottom line is that I think it’s too simplistic to point at one guy and say he needs to fix himself and everything will be fine. The whole offensive side of the ball has to adjust to each other more. But, since it’s such a drastic difference between Gomez and Gallardo, and Moreno has been hurt, Emilio starting slow, etc. it’s been longer than anyone thought to get on the same page.

    But, I think it will come together soon enough.

  4. Mark
    Mark says:

    I hope I am proven wrong, but I think you are right to point out that teams have figured Emilio out. I also suspect Emilio returned to MLS a bit overconfident this year. The opposition has done a good job so far of shutting Emilio down. By the time he is about to settle the ball the opportunity is lost. But I also think that too much responsibility is being placed on Emilio relative to the other players in the goal scoring department. For example, unlike Gomez, I do not think much is expected from Gallardo in the goal scoring department. He creates opportunities for others, but is that enough in this league? With high priced players, this works, in MLS it may prove idealistic at best (see also Beckham in LA) We may learn to miss the versatility of Gomez. Moreno is seen as on his way out, Niell has been easily pushed off the ball, Santino is viewed as a rehabilitation case etc. Who else can get forward and consistently score? Again, I hope I am made to take all of this back soon. I worry though.

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