MLS Originals down to one

With Friday's retirement announcement of Chivas USA midfielder Jesse Marsch, there will be just one MLS Original left when the league's 15th season kicks off in March, just one MLS player who has played at least one game in each of the first 14 campaigns.

That player is D.C. United's Jaime Moreno. Now, Moreno is joined by a pair of players who have been on a team's roster in every season since the league kicked off in 1996 -- Marsch's former Chivas USA teammates, goalkeeper Zach Thornton and forward Ante Razov. But Moreno is the lone player to have seen action every year along the way.

Actually, there is a fourth player who could join the group if he returned to the league later this year -- former New England Revolution and Tampa Bay Mutiny standout midfielder Steve Ralston. Ralston earlier this month announced he will be a player-assistant coach with AC St. Louis in the new second-tier North American Soccer League this season, seemingly indicating his MLS Original run will come to an end. But who knows what the season will bring?

Yet one thing is certain. Those players still alive and kicking as MLS enters its 15th season are around not just because they have demonstrated brilliance at their particular position, but have been consistent and displayed a resilience, an ability to never say well, never.

They even have a few things in common. Of course, they're talented. They're either 36 or pushing it (Razov will reach that age on March 2). They have dabbled in Europe for a short time. And each player has come back from injury, a poor season or just not playing. They have played for their respective national team. And each player has made at least one comeback in their respective careers, if not more.

If one phrase could best describe the United icon, it would be cagey veteran, whether he does it with flair or just grinding it out. Moreno will do just about anything to score, even if it means inflicting bodily harm to himself.

He joined a struggling D.C. United side just prior to the stretch run in the 1996 season and has never looked back. He connected for three goals and three assists in nine games as D.C. won the first of four MLS Cups. Not surprisingly, Moreno has been a part of all four United championship teams, including 1997, 1999 and 2004.

Moreno, who played on loan with Middlesborough in England in 1997-1998, scored a career-best 16 goals three times, He has cracked double figures in goals seven times in his MLS career. The Bolivian international almost made it an eighth time in 2009, as he fell short with nine goals in only 1,240 minutes, which included 11 starts and coming off the bench 13 times.

His poorest season, ironically, came in a MetroStars uniform after a trade in 2003 before returning the next season.

Moreno also holds a host of records, including being the league's all-time goal-scorer (131 goals in 319 games). Last year Moreno became the first MLS player to reach 100 goals and 100 assists as he set up Ben Olsen's stoppage-time goal in a 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution last April 17. Oh, yeah, he is fourth in league history with 102 assists.

He might not be the same player he was a decade ago as age and injuries have caught up to his body, but you wouldn't want to bet against him when a game is on the line.

And oh, yes, one other thing. Moreno has become the master of the penalty kick, converting a league record (what else?) 43 penalty kicks (20 ahead of Toronto FC coach Preki).

We would love to see his trophy case because Moreno has accrued a ton of hardware and honors, which includes seven MLS All-Star nominations, four MLS Best XI selections, the 1997 MLS Golden Boot award and a place on the MLS All-Time Best XI team chosen in 2005.

Thornton has been forced into background roles not once, not twice, but three times in his career. He rebounded from playing second fiddle behind U.S. World Cup goalkeeper Tony Meola with the MetroStars in 1996 and 1997. After he was selected by the Chicago Fire in the 1998 expansion draft, Thornton began the season on the bench behind flamboyant Mexico goalkeeper Jorge Campos. When Campos went to France to participate in the World Cup, Thornton took over in the net and never relinquished the role.

The Fire went on to become the first MLS expansion team to win the league championship that year as Thornton became a rock in the goal, earning goalkeeper of the year honors.

Much has been said about his weight and girth -- although Thornton usually has found a way to get the job done. He is listed at 6-3 and 230 lbs. After trying to secure a spot with Benfica (Portugal) following the 2003 season, Thornton had lost his starting spot to Henry Ring in 2004 and did not play a minute that season. But he regained the No. 1 role the next year. He was traded to the Colorado Rapids in 2007, playing only 32 minutes.

Thornton found his way back to New York in 2008 with the Red Bulls, who traded the keeper to Chivas midway through the season after Brad Guzan departed for Aston Villa (England). He earned the starting spot and found his rhythm in 2009, earning goalkeeper of the year. duplicating what he accomplished in 1998, thanks to a 0.87 goals-against average and 12 shutouts. And, to top it off, he won MLS comeback player of the year as well.

Razov is coming off one of the most frustrating seasons of his career, having been sidelined the entire 2009 season with due to right ankle surgery (entering the season he was one of four MLS Originals still standing, along with Moreno, Marsch and Ralston). He was supposed to miss eight to 12 weeks after arthroscopic surgery removed bone spurs, but tendonitis shelved him for the season.

It is not known whether Razov will return to play in 2010.

If he does think about hanging up his soccer boots for good, that would be Chivas's and MLS's loss.

Razov, who is third on the career goal-scoring charts (114), is his fifth stop of his MLS career. His other teams are the Los Angeles Galaxy, Columbus Crew and MetroStars, while spending the 2001-2002 season with Racing de Ferrol of the Spanish second division season, helping the team avoid relegation (he did not miss MLS action in those years).

He has tallied 10 or more goals seven times in his career, including 10 in Chicago's 1998 championship season, and a career-high 18 in 2000, when the Fire lost to the Kansas City Wizards in the MLS Cup Final.

Quite simply, Razov has a nose for the goal because, well, he knows where to be positioned.

He is the all-time leading goal-scorer for not one, but two clubs. He struck 78 times for the Fire and has another 30 for Chivas, which he joined in 2006. His favorite coach? His favorite coach? Easy. U.S. national coach Bob Bradley, for whom Razov has scored 78 goals in 162 appearances with the Fire, MetroStars and Chivas, compared to 36 goals in 100 matches with other coaches.

He has recorded more multi-goal games -- 22 -- than any other player (Landon Donovan and Jeff Cunningham have 21 and 20, respectively) and is second behind Cunningham for the most game-winning goals (33 to 36).

And before you mention it, we know there are four other MLS "originals" still playing, but they haven't performed in every league season.

That short list includes San Jose Earthquakes defender Ramiro Corrales, Columbus Crew defender Frankie Hejduk, Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Eddie Lewis and Chicago Fire forward Brian McBride.

But at one time or another in their careers, they took the great leap across the Atlantic to play in Europe, breaking their MLS streaks. So, that leaves them out of the running.