United brace for a locker room without Moreno

Retiring veteran's leadership as valuable as deft scoring touch

WASHINGTON – As part of the website’s monthlong tribute to Jaime Moreno, DCUnited.com’s Tony Limarzi recently featured the 45 goalkeepers who surrendered goals to the most prolific striker in MLS history over the course of his scintillating career.

Mark Simpson did not make that list because he never had the misfortune of facing Moreno in match play. But as his teammate for five-plus seasons, he endured the Bolivian’s scoring wizardry in hundreds of practices and bore further witness to his abilities in his time as a DC assistant coach from 2004 up to now.

So it’s no surprise that Moreno’s quality and consistency have influenced Simpson – and by extension, successive generations of United netminders – over the years.

“Playing against Jaime in a training session every single day, along with Marco [Etcheverry], definitely makes you a better goalkeeper and a better player,” Simpson said this week. “Just when you see one thing that you’re 95 percent sure that they’re going to do, they’ll change their mind – it definitely makes you an honest player during training sessions.

“You try to relate that to coaching, seeing what they see on the field.”

Moreno’s statistical contributions have not been as dramatic as usual during this difficult season, but the Bolivian’s massive presence in the United locker room is not easily replaced and even the club’s remaining veterans may need assistance with that task in the years ahead.

"I think we’ve struggled with leadership the last couple of years,” Simpson said. “Guys can’t make themselves leaders – it’s kind of natural. I’d like [goalkeeper] Troy [Perkins] to be a leader but I’ve always told him, just lead by your play first.

“We don’t need anybody to force themselves to be a leader, we just need play to take over and just lead by examples first,” he added. “I think we might have to get some leadership, some people that are natural in that area, that can adapt to this league. And hopefully other guys will follow in those footsteps as well.”

Much of the rationale for Moreno’s departure revolves around the club’s focus on rebuilding for the future with a younger cast of characters. But the reality of his exit has hit hard this week, and Simpson is one of many United employees who are more than happy to make him the star of the show leading up to Toronto FC’s visit on Saturday.

United’s top priority is giving Moreno a victory in his last DC appearance, but his coaches and teammates are also eager to get “The Godfather of Goals” on the score sheet one more time.

“He might not be able to move around physically like he used to, but he definitely sees the game and sees little spaces and gaps that he can move into,” Simpson said. “Guys have just got to be smart enough to find him there. That’s one thing that we can have a little more maturity in, is finding him in those holes that he fills and let him do his thing when he has the ball at his feet.”