Tampa Bay Sports Day

Deep roster keeps DC United fresh and formidable

Having scored only one goal in his last seven matches, Luciano Emilio vented his frustration on a tray of water bottles on DC United’s sideline after being removed in the 63rd minute of their 2-0 win against New York last Thursday.

With a yellow card already in hand, the boot earned Emilio an immediate red card and a seat on that same bench again as United plays their biggest match of season this Saturday against Chicago.

With a chance to leapfrog the Fire (5-2-6, 21 points) into first place in the Eastern Conference, United (4-2-7, 19 points) will now have to do it without their leading goal scorer.

Coming into the season in far better condition, including in the wallet, than he did a year ago, the Brazilian striker has been feeling the pressure of his team’s and his own expectations.

“I was a little bit heated with the way things were going in the game,” said Emilio. “I thought we could still score a goal in the second half. I thought we were opening them up more. But the coach thought it better to pull me out of the game so that brought on a little frustration on my part.”

A hefty raise from a year ago also made Emilio the team’s highest paid player ($759,000 salary).

“Sometimes I am under pressure because everybody is waiting for me, waiting because of the Golden Boot, MVP, everything I have to do,” said Emilio, who had 11 goals and 5 assists in 2008. “If I have more time to score goals and play good, it’s important for the team and important for me.”

United head coach Tom Soehn was not surprised with the red card decision but his team did not have to play short due to the fact Emilio had already been removed from the game. Though he has started Emilio in five straight matches, he has also removed him early in the last three.

“In the heat of the moment, obviously things transpired that were unacceptable,” Soehn said. “He understands it and we move on. . . . In general, forwards go through stretches where there is pressure on them, and when they are not scoring, they get frustrated. I’ve seen it all levels playing and coaching. People handle it in different ways. Unfortunately, he handled it in the wrong way.”

With previous United teams burning out and fading late in the season, Soehn has been steadfast in rotating players and strictly managing minutes. Emilio however, is one of only five United players to have started at least 12 of United’s 13 matches.

Against New York, Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno both came off the bench in the second half and made significant contributions. Gomez threatened with two cracks at goal immediately after coming on and was taken down by goalkeeper Jon Conway to set up Moreno’s penalty kick in stoppage time.

In the recent past, Chicago has provided the blue print on how to beat United especially in critical games as United struggled to adjust to different players in different roles in different formations.

With his current team configuration, Soehn has the ability to do unto others as they have done unto him.

“It’s never an easy situation to get into. We have used them in so many different ways and it’s not just them, it’s everybody,” said Soehn. “Sometimes they are called on to start and sometimes they are called on to change the flow of the game and they did a pretty good job of injecting energy and keeping the ball.

“On a deep team it’s important that everybody figures out their value and the importance of when they are called upon they do the job whether starting or coming on as a sub.”

United has shown not only itself to be a deep team this season but more importantly, a versatile one with several players showing a dynamic and wide range of skill that can be used in multiple places on the field.

“A lot of that is on the fly stuff from Tommy. He’s got a good luxury with a lot of our players,” said Ben Olsen, who was upgraded from out to questionable for this weekend, still nursing an injured hamstring. “With Chris (Pontius) and Santino (Quaranta); Fred and Christian and Jaime; those are all kind of interchangeable pieces.”

“If we need a little bit more defense and Chris Pontius is playing forward, you can feel free to drop him back and if Tino is tired he can go up higher; and if we need something out wide and he sees they have a weak left back, he’ll put Fred out there to abuse him a little bit,” Olsen continued. “So all of that little stuff is stuff he deals with and makes adjustments in the game.”

After coming off a long weekend and the first extended break of the season, United prepares for another stretch of three games in eight days. After the match with Chicago, United will make its first visit to Seattle on Wednesday and will remain out west to conclude the road swing in Colorado on Saturday.