BOSTON- He knows it and his coach knows it.
Dimitry Imbongo, 23, the tall and hulking six-foot forward from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, needs to be smarter with his physical play and keep his strength in check.
He has a knack for scoring timely goals but has also emerged as the club's biggest liability on the field. He was last year's league leader in red cards (3) and was ejected in last week's final preseason game against the Colorado Rapids for a late-game altercation with Marvin Chavez.
"When you get a red card when you're trying to make a team play, you can understand it," said Revolution coach Jay Heaps at Media Day on Tuesday night. "Or you're backing someone up or your defending the group."
"But when you get a personal red card, I have a problem with that. I count that as retaliation or a play that hurts the team."
"Unfortunately, I think Dimitry has a ways to go in understanding how strong and physical he is and what it's going to take for him not to retaliate. I don't think he initiates any of the red cards he receives. Unfortunately it's been red cards that the referee sees as the second retaliation. For me, that's not good enough for the group."
Imbongo wants to lead the Revolution to an MLS Cup and score at least ten goals this season. Heaps has showed good faith in the young striker too, giving him 11 starts in 21 appearances last year. But the red cards are mitigating Imbongo's contributions and giving him a reputation as a reckless player.
"The red cards from last year, some red cards I got you can't say were fair," said Imbongo. "[It's different in Europe]. And I'm the striker, I need to use my elbow on the defender behind me. It's not easy. But the red card I got in preseason...was really stupid from me. I'm really sorry about that."
MLS has a reputation as a fast and physical league. It is true, however, that the nature of fouling is different around the world. The English Premier League and German Bundesliga are both very physical leagues where the attacking player is almost always given leeway on 50-50 plays. Prior to joining the Revolution in July of 2012, Imbongo played four years in Germany; first with 1860 Munich, then with third-tier team SV Darmstadt 98.
But all referees crack the whip on high elbows. Two of Imbongo's three red cards last year involved his elbow. The other was produced following an altercation with Houston's Bobby Boswell, a situation similar to the preseason tussle with Chavez.
"Some players in the league know me now, how I play." said Imbongo. "They want to push me to get the red card. But I really need to be smart."
That doesn't mean Imbongo can't use his size and strength to his advantage. When he has, he's been a deadly target and holder of the ball in and out of the penalty area. His physicality helped him score each of his three goals last year, including a crisp side volley he netted in last year's playoff with Sporting Kansas City.
"We want him to be even more physical," added Heaps. "Physical does not mean retaliation or dirty. It means establishing yourself in the rhythm of the game and using your strengths physically. When he holds the ball there's no one who can take it from him. We love that about him."
"But it's the other things, the elbows up that we as a staff continue to work with him on. He's a young player. He's been on the receiving end of a lot of mistreatment. He has a little bit of a reputation and he has to go about cleaning that up by playing the right way."
All strikers in MLS have to contend with a core of tall and strong defenders. It helps that Imbongo has the likes of Jose Goncalves and Stephen McCarthy to practice with in Foxboro. There is a way by these hulking players, though it's definitely not with his elbow. Imbongo knows he has an advantage as an uncommonly strong physical player and he's embracing it.
"It's very important to be a strong striker," said Imbongo. "A couple of teams have very strong defenders, like Kansas City, New York, LA...they all have strong defenders. It's important to have big strong guys in the front to hold the ball, to keep play with the defender behind."
Tactically, getting by those defenders won't be easy. But for a player like Imbongo, who has the tools and is looking forward to scoring multiple times this season, it's adapt to survive.
"I just want to [have more of a focus] in front of goal," he said. "I want to score more goals because now my teammates know me, how I play, how I move in the field. This season is going to be good."
If you want to reach Julian email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @juliancardillo
Note: the word "efficacious" was changed to "more of a focus" and an earlier version of the article reported that Imbongo had been suspended.
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