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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 10 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Nov 15, 2007

Emilio's MVP award gives honor to D.C. United again

WASHINGTON -- So much for the "Beckham rule." The MVP of Major League Soccer is a newcomer who arrived without the fanfare.

D.C. United forward Luciano Emilio was honored Thursday as the league's top player, capping a season in which he became the first 20-goal scorer in five years in MLS.

"This is the best moment in my career," Emilio said.

The 28-year-old Brazilian finished ahead of Juan Pablo Angel of the New York Red Bulls and Cuauhtemoc Blanco of the Chicago Fire in voting by coaches, general managers, players and media.

All three finalists were foreign players new to the league, but Emilio was the only one not signed under the new designated player rule -- known as the "Beckham rule" after English superstar David Beckham -- that allows teams to ignore the salary cap to pursue up to two high-profile players.

"For me, it's very, very important," Emilio said. "I am surprised because Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Juan Pablo Angel are very good international players, and I am so happy."

When Emilio signed in January after a three-year courtship by United, he immediately stated his two top aims: win a championship and the goal-scoring title.

He accomplished the latter by finding the net 20 times, the most in an MLS season since Carlos Ruiz scored 24 goals and Taylor Twellman had 23 in 2002. Emilio became the first player to win the goal-scoring title without the benefit of a penalty kick.

Emilio helped lead United to the league's best record in the regular season, but his pursuit of the championship was hindered by a sprained ankle that limited him in both games of the club's first-round playoff series loss to Chicago.

Emilio's route to MLS began in his native Brazil and went through Mexico and Honduras. He was playing for Honduran club CD Olimpia when discovered in 2004 by United technical director Dave Kasper. Kasper, now United's general manager, pursued Emilio every year until the Brazilian felt ready to move to the United States, in part because he wanted the best lifestyle possible for his newborn daughter.

"It's definitely very rewarding when you put the work in," Kasper said. "First you have to get the player to agree to and sign the contract, but to fit in the way Luciano has, both on and off the field, and to be a pleasure to be around, and to have this much success and impact, is a terrific accomplishment and something we're very proud of.'

Emilio is the second consecutive D.C. United player to win the award, following midfielder Christian Gomez last year. Emilio's superb season has raised his profile on the international scene, but he said he expects to return to United next season.

"I think so. I have a three-year contract," Emilio said. "We speak next week about next season, but I don't have a problem. I like Washington, D.C. The team is a big team in the United States, and I think I stay here."

Emilio's biggest improvement over the season wasn't on the field. When he signed in January, he conducted all of his interviews in Spanish with a translator. On Thursday, all of his answers were in English.

"I learned a lot. I know my English is no very good, but I try to speak in the locker room, with teammates," he said with a smile. "I watch a lot of TV. Getting better every day."

Emilio was the only finalist to play the entire season with his club. Angel, a Colombian striker, arrived from Aston Villa of the English Premier League and finished with 19 goals. His debut with the Red Bulls was delayed because of visa problems.

Blanco, a Mexican midfielder, didn't join the Fire until July because of national team obligations. Chicago was 4-8-4 when he arrived, but he led the team to a 6-2-6 finish that snared the final playoff berth on the last day of the regular season.