Johnson: Moreno's Farewell Ends An Era

Johnson: Moreno's Farewell Ends An Era
October 24, 2010, 4:10 am
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Saturday, October 23, 2010 11:55 PMBy Dave
Washington----The late Hall of Fame soccer coach Gordon Bradley helped bring Pele to the United Sates and in the 1970s traveled the world for that famous club to scout some of the game's greatest players. In August of 1996 a beaming Bradley could hardly contain his joy after Jaime Moreno's debut with DC United.

Moreno's debut was in Tampa against the now-defunct Mutiny, and after broadcasting the match Bradley turned to me and said 'that one is special'. Bradley's enthusiasm for Moreno was understandable. Moreno scored just four minutes into that match in Tampa with an assist from fellow Bolivian international Marco Etcheverry.

DC United's slogan is 'Win Championships and Serve the Community'. Did DC United create that slogan or did Jaime Moreno establish it? It's a fair question. In 14 seasons with United, Moreno helped capture each one of the club's 12 trophies.

Moreno, Etcheverry, and El Salvador international Raul Diaz Arce went on to form United's magic triangle with the emphasis... on the magic. They worked magic on the field and created a truly magical time for the club and its incredibly supportive and passionate fans.

With Moreno wrecking havoc on opposing defenses with both his guile and his skill, United appeared in Major League Soccer's first four championship games and captured three titles. Moreno was becoming the first foreign born player to develop his skills in MLS.

From the beginning, foreign players toward the end of their careers were a part of MLS, but Moreno was the first to use MLS as a launching pad. Before United, Moreno had played little in two seasons with English Premier League side Middlesborough.

For Moreno MLS was not a platform back to Europe, but a platform to carving out an amazing career in the United States. It was fitting that in his final match Saturday against Toronto FC at RFK Stadium, MLS commissioner Don Garber was in attendance to salute Moreno.

In short, Moreno helped build MLS and it goes beyond him being the only player in league history to score over 100 goals and 100 assists. So yes, he can claim the title as best player in MLS history, but he was also key ingredient in the mix that made DC United a super club in MLS.

United and Moreno's amazing success in the MLS' early days gave the league a badly needed selling point. In short, United gave MLS some 'sex appeal'. There was a style and flair to the way United played and it created a buzz and attracted interest to a league trying to forge a future.

Indeed MLS now has reached a level of success that has surpassed many observers' expectations. Under Garber's guidance the league has flourished, but Moreno's commitment to MLS must not be understated when considering why the professional game truly does have a bright future in the United States.

Moreno has an understated personality. Yet his commitment to the game and ability to enjoy the game at the same time has made an impact on Moreno's teammates. When Moreno's teammates talked about him, they talk about an incredibly competitive player who helped create a positive atmosphere in the locker room.

It is worth noting that Moreno has always played well in championship games. Moreno's goal in MLS Cup 97 helped DC United celebrate a title before over 57,000 at RFK Stadium. It was an important benchmark in establishing United in DC. The crowd was amazing considering it was in a torrential downpour while the Redskins and Ravens were playing at the same time at Fed Ex Field.

A loss in MLS Cup '98 stoked Moreno's fire to get back in the championship game. In true Moreno form, he helped United to 23 wins and a fourth consecutive trip to the final game. Moreno scored in the win over the LA Galaxy to claim MLS Cup 99, but on that day few could predict the uncertainty that lie ahead.

By 2003, after three straight seasons without the playoffs, Moreno was sent to the New York MetroStars. It was strange to see Moreno in a different uniform, but he was only in that uniform for seven games. Moreno was bothered by a back injury and I still vividly remember the sadness in his face as he watched a 2003 meeting between United and the MetroStars from the press box.

After surgery to repair herniated disks in his back, Moreno returned to United, but without any guarantees. Moreno made the team but his number 9 had been given to Freddy Adu. So Moreno took number 99 and he took DC United on another wild ride.

From career-threatened to a career-high 14 assists, Moreno also had two goals in the playoffs to put United on their way to claiming a fourth league title. Moreno still gets close to tears when reflecting on that 2004 season. He says only his family knows the pain, emotional and physical, that he went through to return to championship form.

Family is important to Moreno. With wife Louise, who he met in England, Moreno has five children including son James and daughters Laura, Fabianna, Lily, and Daniela. Moreno and his wife Louise have been incredibly giving of their time to charity and have just unveiled the 99 Hearts 1 Dream Foundation.

Moreno's family approach has also extended to the locker room. Santino Quaranta also gets close to tears when talking about Moreno's impact. Moreno helped support Quaranta's return to United after a battle with addiction to pain killers.

It's hard to define what Moreno really has meant to DC United and the Washington area. As much as we celebrate what he accomplished on the field, the discussion of Moreno drifts away from the pitch and to the difference he made with people.

Moreno refers to fans as friends. In one memorable match when he could not play, Moreno was found in the middle of supporter's group La Barra Brava, cheering and banging a drum. It made perfect sense. Moreno was always willing to do anything for DC United.

Sure Moreno has the trophies to prove he is a champion, but he will be forever remembered for the way he became a champion. With dignity, class, and passion Moreno set a standard that may never be equaled and probably wasn't appreciated enough.