Moreno racks up numbers with United
By Charles Boehm / MLSnet.com StaffWASHINGTON -- It was a typical D.C. United training session at the RFK Stadium auxiliary fields, the squad concluding the session with a shooting competition designed to reward the most consistent finisher.With trash talk flowing in all directions under the bright sunshine, the entire squad gleefully queued up to hammer shot after shot at their beleaguered goalkeepers. But no one was enjoying themselves more than the oldest player on the field, Jaime Moreno, and to the surprise of no one, the United captain strolled to victory in the contest, finding the net over and over again, as usual."Of course. He always wins the finishing drills," said defender Bryan Namoff afterwards. "The most frustrating thing about Jaime is, he makes it look so easy to someone who's just watching, when actually going through with it when we're playing those clinical finishing games, you struggle. And he's out there just having fun, making it look easy -- and winning."Namoff isn't the only one who feels that way. Those who've watched Moreno the longest tend to be the most awestruck by his enduring elegance and fluidity with a ball at his feet."I think it's almost worked to his detriment sometimes with the fans and the media, that he makes it look easy," said United president Kevin Payne, who described the Bolivian as "the best player in the history of the league" without hesitation. "It's not easy, he just happens to be very graceful and consummately skilled. So he manages to make it look effortless and it's not effortless at all."Moreno has used those substantial physical and technical gifts to rack up some truly extravagant statistics over his 14-year career in Major League Soccer, the latest of which was his 100th assist last Friday, a feat which makes him the first and only player in league history to reach triple figures in both assists and goals."I think it's just overall, all the work that I've put in through my career," said Moreno of the milestone's significance to him. "At the end of the day, I guess it pays off when you do the right things, and I've been fortunate to be in this league for so long. Also, a big thanks to the people who still believed in me, and my teammates, definitely. Without them I wasn't going to be able to reach these achievements."More landmarks surely lie ahead. Soon enough the Bolivian will play his 300th regular-season MLS match, a level only six other players have attained. Besides his league-best 122 goals, he also ranks in the top five in career shots, shots on goal, game-winning goals, penalty kick goals and multi-goal games.But his coaches and teammates prefer to expound on the other assets Moreno has brought to United for more than a decade, during which time both club and player have enjoyed fantastic success in both domestic and international competition."I'd be surprised if anybody ever does that in the way that he did it, over the period of his career, the amount of championships he's won," said Santino Quaranta. "It's not just the numbers, it's what he's done for the club. He'll be the first one to tell you that the club always comes first, and when you have a guy that does that as your leader, that's always going to be good things for the young guys."Quaranta was the youngest player in league history when he entered MLS as a 16-year-old in 2001, and he describes Moreno as a "father figure" who influenced his development in myriad ways, even though he often failed to heed his elder teammate's advice as a headstrong youngster. But a year ago, when the Baltimore native got his career back on track and sought a second chance with his first club, Moreno was one of the first to speak on his behalf."I didn't always listen to him, and that was unfortunate. I look back all the time and I wish I would've, but I didn't," recalled Quaranta with a wistful smile. "He's going to be someone I'll definitely keep in contact with my whole life, because I've become so close with him. He's meant a lot to my career, and to so many other people here."Moreno's own career has been regularly interrupted by injury and he hit rock bottom back in 2003, when he was traded away to United's I-95 rivals, the MetroStars, and missed most of the season with debilitating back problems. But he would complete the long, hard journey back to full fitness and return to D.C. to lead his old club to a fourth MLS Cup title with an MVP-caliber campaign.Five years later, he continues to delight in confounding his detractors as a 35-year-old forward in an increasingly fast-paced and physical league."You just never doubt Jaime," said longtime teammate Ben Olsen. "A lot of people have doubted him in the last five years, and he's continued to show why he's one of, if not the best, players to have been seen in MLS. Going back to his back, his injuries -- the guy hasn't had a clean bill of health in a while, and he continues to grind it out and get back."Moreno joined United as a fleet-footed young frontrunner in 1996, but he's refined and expanded his game substantially with the passing of the years. He credits that evolution to an enduring quest for understanding and improvement on the training ground."Through the years you get more experience, and maybe you read the game better," said the Bolivian on Tuesday. "When you come to practice, you always try to learn something different and then you start doing it in practice and in games, it becomes easier. So that's all I'm doing. In the last five years I've enjoyed so much playing football."I'm really happy about it," he added, "even though I had so many surgeries -- sometimes I wonder how it would be if I didn't have any surgeries. But that's gone and I just think of now, and living the dream, like Benny says."