Jaime Moreno is a living legend in Major League Soccer.
He’s D.C. United’s captain and the face of the franchise. He’sthe league’s all-time leading goal scorer, a member of the MLS All-Time BestXI, a seven-time All-Star and the proud owner of four MLS Cup championshiprings.
But Moreno is also 36 years old. His 322 careermatches have put plenty of hard miles on his odometer and even he is quick toacknowledge that he’s lost a step -- or two. In each of the past severalseasons, United coaches have sat down with him to discuss moderating his roleand managing his minutes, with the expectation that younger guns will inevitablyseize the spotlight.
Ambitious clubs aren’t supposed to rely on players --especially attacking players -- of Moreno’s age. Yet the Bolivian refuses tofade into the background, and the Black-and-Red can’t help but find themselvesindebted to his contributions again and again.
Look no further than the club’s match last Saturday inPhiladelphia, where his appearance off the bench brought purpose to the Unitedfront line and inspired a two-goal comeback. The club’s second goal was craftedpurely from Moreno’s veteran savvy, picking wide-eyed goalkeeper Chris Seitz’spocket and converting a chance for goal No. 132 of his stellar career.
“He impacts games when he comes in them and when he’s a partof them,” said D.C. assistant coach Mark Simpson, a former teammate of Moreno.“Obviously he doesn’t have the legs that he did in his 20s, but he’s a smarterplayer, and you’ve got to give him credit for sniffing out the goal that he didon the weekend. He’s obviously going to make us better as a team and we justhave to put in the work around him.”
With Santino Quaranta looking more comfortable in a flankrole, D.C. coach Curt Onalfo continues to experiment with his team’s central playmakingspot. Moreno seems to provide the most creative option, even in a withdrawnstriker’s role that grants freedom to roam with the security of defensive coverbehind him.
But when asked about United’s search for a "maestro," Morenosuggests that his club can never truly recapture its glory days when countrymanMarco "El Diablo" Etcheverry made D.C. maybe the most exciting team in theleague to see.
“Well, the maestro isgone a while ago," said Moreno. "That was Marco. I don’t think anybody can replace him. So right now we just try to adapt to whatever the coach wants and alsoto see what kind of players we have … I think the game right now is so fast thateverybody has to defend and go forward, too. The game is different.”
United’s 0-3 start to the season has led to simmeringfrustration among the club’s fans, and some have criticized Moreno’s continuinginfluence despite efforts to cultivate other attacking weapons. His response isboth defiant and dismissive.
“I just laugh,” Moreno said on Wednesday. “I laugh because people keep questioning and Idon’t know what else I need to do to prove to them that I can keep playing. I think I’m going tobe the first one to accept it when I’m going to retire. So people keep doubtingand I keep enjoying it -- I keep enjoying every minute.
“I know there are people out there who don’t have a cluewhat they’re talking about," he continued. "They’ve never played the game. People who arefrustrated, probably, at home and in their personal lives, they try to releaseall that anger with somebody like me or so many other players that are probablyin the same situation as me. But it doesn’t really bother me.”
The wily veteran is quick to point out that Toronto FC coachPreki won a league MVP award with Kansas City at age 40 and played into hisfifth decade, though he claims to have little interest in challenging theSerbian’s mark for longevity.
“I’ll take it day by day, year by year,” Moreno said.“Sometimes I do feel like retiring, but the next day I’m desperate to train again.So once I lose that desire I know that I’m going to retire, but in the meantime,I’m still having fun.”