For those of us who have followed soccer in the Washington D.C. region over the years, Jaime Moreno first came into our consciousness on a summer’s day 16 years ago when he was wearing a Bolivian national team jersey.
Moreno ran full speed, 90 yards down the right-flank at RFK Stadium; beat then D.C. United defender Jeff Agoos, and slotting the ball past American goalie Brad Friedel at the near-post to give Bolivia a 2-0 win over the U.S. national team on June 12, 1996.
“Early goal by 20-year-old Bolivian stuns Americans at RFK Stadium,” was the headline of my story that day in The Washington Times. Moreno’s name would make it into the bold headlines of the Times over 63 more times down the years, proving just how special he was.
It was a stunning goal and we were left all left wondering who the speedy 20-year-old striker was? United already had Bolivian ace Marco Etcheverry on its roster. Then a month later, Moreno joined his national team partner at United from English club Middlesbrough. From then on, Moreno made history at United, helping the club win 12 trophies. In 1997 he won the Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot as the league’s top goal scorer.
But all things must end, and United’s legendary forward will run out onto the turf at RFK for the last time on Saturday night, when United take on Toronto FC. The last game of United’s worst season, will also be Moreno’s last game in a United jersey and his 340th MLS match. It’s sad that it has to end this way, but Moreno knows it’s the right time, and so do his loyal fans.
Interim United coach Ben Olsen calls Moreno “best player that’s ever graced MLS.”
The 36-year-old Bolivian striker, is retiring from the game after 15 mostly productive years at United where he posted amazing numbers and is arguably the league’s greatest player of all time. In may ways, United was Jaime Moreno. He is the team’s most decorated player. He was there from almost the beginning, and it will be interesting to see what the club will be like without him.
An MLS original from the inaugural season
Moreno was the first “100-100” player - notching 100 goals and 100 assists. He is also the “King of the Penalty Kick”, after converting a record 43 penalty kicks in 339 games - 20 ahead of his nearest spot-kick competitor.
Moreno experienced all of United’s success, including four MLS titles.
Though a three-time finalist, he never won the MLS MVP award. In 2008 Moreno tallied double digits in goals and assists categories in a season, a feat matched only by Preki, who walked away with the MVP title twice.
“Jaime’s a special player,” United coach Tom Soehn said at the time. “He’s been able to adapt his game to his own physique and his experience and makes people around him better.
Moreno spent most of his career at United but did spend a forgotten season playing in New York in 2003, when he was plagued by a career-threatening back injury. He returned to United and picked up where he left off.
It was Moreno’s ability to run at defenses and create numerous scoring opportunities that made him so great.
When he broke Jason Kries’ scoring-record on Aug. 22, 2007, Moreno said he never considered himself primarily a goal-scorer.
“I always said that I never qualified myself as a goal scorer,” he said. “I’m in this position with the record because of the many years I’ve played in this league and also because I did score some important goals in my career.”
United president Kevin Payne, who in August 1996 brought Moreno to the District from English club Middlesbrough, agreed,
“He’s so involved in the game in so many parts of the field,” Payne said. “Real goal scorers hang around the box - that’s where they play their game, Jaime helps us in the midfield and helps the other guys who are trying to score goals.”
As he aged, Moreno tweaked his game. While he kept scoring goals and earning assists, he also worked on slowing down the tempo of a game when necessary, making the right pass and putting his teammates in the right position. That’s why he lasted so long. He pushed his body, and his weak knees, to adapt the game. But even the body can only do so much. Moreno has finall heard the bugle call in the sunset of his career. He was always fun to watch, and he often produced magical touches on the ball. Jaime will be missed as D.C. United comes to the end of an era.
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