There has been no shortage of foreign flops in the 10-year history of MLS, but D.C. United can boast a remarkable record of identifying and acquiring international players, with successful results both on the field and at the turnstiles. From Marco Etcheverry, Carlos Llamosa and Raul Diaz Arce to current captain Jaime Moreno, United has made a habit of mining overlooked talent from the rich football cultures of Latin America.
The tradition continues today, but now economic circumstances have made two-time World Cup winner Argentina a reliable, affordable source for quality players.
Attacking midfielder Christian Gomez joined the Black-and-Red from Arsenal de Sarandi in August of last year, and despite lacking full match fitness, led the drive towards D.C.'s fourth MLS Cup title. This season, 22-year-old center back Facundo Erpen has been the most prominent pickup for the defending champs, adding style and tactical understanding to the defensive line.
Now head coach Peter Nowak and technical director Dave Kasper are hoping for another late-season boost from the capture of another Argentinean, striker Lucio Filomeno. The 25-year-old from Buenos Aires has compiled an impressive resume across multiple continents, having spent time with Italian giants Inter Milan and SS Lazio in addition to stints with San Lorenzo, Mexican side Jaguares de Chiapas and Korean K-League outfit Busan.
"I think we have a good mix, with Facundo being the sweeper and a central midfielder like Christian, and then you have Jaime and now Filomeno," said Nowak last week. "It's a good spine in this team. I think all of them recognize what we are doing here and realize how we're treating the game -- the organization, all the staff is first-class. They fit very well in this system."
Filomeno's size, skill and comfort with his back to goal fits a traditional striker's role and offers United a slightly different option in attack. However, he is nursing a sore knee that will likely limit him to a substitute's role.
"He's a strong player, he can keep the ball well," said Moreno. "I think as South American players, we understand each other pretty well. I don't know how he is fitness-wise, because he hasn't been playing for a few weeks now. So all that kind of stuff, you lose it."
Coming off the bench against Columbus last week, Filomeno struggled to cope with challenges from Crew defenders as well as the choppy RFK Stadium field, but still made an impact by drawing the penalty kick that gave D.C. a 2-2 draw.
"It's so physical, so strong. The defenders are so strong," he said afterwards. "If you are not in good condition and fitness, it will be hard. So in my case tonight, my last match was three months ago, and with this injury, for those reasons it was difficult. But I have to keep on going, get better. It's hard for me but not impossible."
Desperate to gain the understanding and fitness needed to help his new club, Filomeno is clearly racing against time, and he revealed that he's taken a cortisone shot to quell his knee troubles. But Nowak was impressed with his work against the Crew and sees a role for the Argentinean in United's playoff campaign.
"I think in the last 20 minutes, he did very good," said Nowak. "He's a smart player -- we didn't see sometimes the runs that he makes between the defenders. We have to work on that -- we don't have enough time. We can work 24/7 and it's still not going to be enough time to be on the same page. But (we'll) be ready for Friday night."
Filomeno has wandered the globe throughout his playing career, so he is taking this new set of challenges in stride.
"It's difficult, because I am alone -- my girlfriend is in Argentina," he said. "But for me it's important to concentrate only on football at this time. So I'm working hard on that. All my life I did the same -- concentrate and focus on football and just that. I want to do the best for the team."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.