A Bog goodbye to Jaime Moreno
Four things I'm thinking about as Jaime Moreno gets ready to play his final game for D.C. United.
Moreno is the last on-field link to the franchise's glory years, when "We Win Trophies" was a reality, not a marketing slogan. The obvious, and perhaps only modern D.C. sports comparison is Darrell Green: absurd grace and elegance on the field, shocking longevity, a career that started when his franchise was flourishing and ended when it sort of wasn't.
"Darrell Green and Art Monk," agreed Matt Mathai, founder of the Screaming Eagles supporters group and a longtime Skins fan. "When they left, I just felt very, very sad."
He wasn't expecting to feel the same emotion about Moreno -- when he first heard the news about Moreno's final season in D.C., he thought it was the right time -- but as Saturday approached, the sadness came again.
"I'm really sad, more sad than I thought I'd be, and I don't know why that is," Mathai told me. " I think it's because he's our last guy, our last active player with a tie to the beginning of the club. And when he's gone, those days are gone."
Moreno was always a fairly dull interview, all proper and straight-laced in his responses. Right?
"By no means is he straight-laced," Jeff Agoos told me.
In fact, he has a long-standing reputation as a wicked practical joker, though specific stories are rarely attached to that label. Here are some.
"When Thomas Rongen was our coach, he had this Get Smart silver briefcase that he brought on every trip, and Jaime would steal it from him," Agoos said. "Every time he would have no idea who took it, and every time it was Jaime. We're boarding, and he's saying 'Where's my briefcase?' Hilarious."
Moreno would steal teammates' shoes if they fall asleep in flights and force them to walk through terminals in their socks. He could also braid the laces of stolen shoes in such a way as to render them essentially unusable. Oh, and he once put a dead lizard in Alecko Eskandarian's cleats during a trip to Mexico.
"He must have carried this thing for like a mile as we were walking to the practice field," Eskandarian told me this week. "I freaked out. I think i refused to practice that day because I wouldn't put my cleats on."
In fact, Eskandarian and Moreno had several practice joke battles through the years, which probably doesn't surprise you.
"He put Flexall in my underwear," Esky recalled fondly. "It kind of backfired on him the first time he did it. I had taken an ice bath after practice, and I'm going home, and my entire body is freezing, but my [private parts] feel great. It was so weird. I was like, do my [private parts] just retain heat better than the rest of my body?
"Then a week later, I"m driving home, and my [private parts] are on freaking fire. I started asking around about it, and he had this stupid smile on his face. So then I put Flexall in his jeans pockets, and I'm waiting for him to reach in for his car keys or his wallet or something. Turns out he had a $500 Gucci wallet and a fancy watch that got ruined, so that didn't work out so well. He basically wanted to kill me."
Even before Moreno took on this unofficial role of practical joker, he was making teammates laugh. Check out this story from New York Red Bulls assistant Richie Williams, one of Moreno's original teammates.
"I guess we were all young, but he was even younger," Williams said, when I asked about meeting Moreno. "I remember he had learned how to play golf in England, and he wanted to go play golf with us. Me, Mark Simpson and Jaime went out, and Jaime actually hit me with a golf cart, basically ran me over with it, and I actually cut my face in the accident. Everything ended up going well, but Jaime obviously was very nervous and upset, thought that possibly they were going to send him back to Bolivia or England because he ran me over with the golf cart. I was outside, he was in passenger seat, and he misjudged where I was and he slammed into me with the golf cart. Pretty funny when you look back on it."
The AP's Joseph White called Jaime "the Babe Ruth, the Michael Jordan or the Wayne Gretzky of Major League Soccer, while Ben Olsen said Moreno is "the best player that's ever graced MLS."
So virtually no praise from the ex-teammates would be surprising or original, but I'll quote them nonetheless.
"You could argue he's, if not the best player, one of the top 5 players in our league from the beginning of Major League Soccer," Williams said. "He was very fast with the ball, a guy who almost seemed faster when he had the ball and was running at defenders."
("That's only because he's lazy without the ball," Eskandarian joked.)
"I just remember Jaime being the final piece of the puzzle, knowing that with a guy of that caliber, it was gonna be hard to stop us," Agoos said, when I asked of his first impressions. "He was just the ultimate forward at the infancy of MLS. He had all the tools that would make him be a top player in this league."
"When people ask me, I still say he's the best player in the history of the league," Eskandarian said. "You can't take the ball away from him. He had that big body and the sweetest touch; he had qualities that no one else had. You think you've got the ball, and he throws his hip into you and his big-ass quads, and all of the sudden he's going the other way and you're like what the hell just happened? He just amazed me. A lot of the time he looks like he's just chilling, but then when he gets his engine going he did special things."
"Every day my ability to defend was tested, and that's what made me a better defender. I owe him a lot of gratitude for my development as a back in MLS," Agoos said. "He embodies what you remember as D.C. United. He just embodies everything you want as a professional athlete. And when you think of D.C. United in a positive light, it's gonna be hard not to [think of] Jaime Moreno."
Check out this list of the longest tenured D.C. athletes I posted last October. After Moreno finishes his 14th and final season with United, only five of the top 14 from a year ago will still be D.C. athletes. Ben Olsen and Chris Samuels retired. Bryan Namoff was chased off the field by injuries. Fred Smoot, Rock Cartwright, Ladell Betts and Ethan Albright weren't a part of the new Redskins. Brendan Haywood was traded. And now Moreno.
Who are the next wave of leaders? Mike Sellers and Santino Quaranta will be completing their 10th and 9th seasons in Washington, respectively, though neither served continuously. Boyd Gordon of the Caps and Gilbert Arenas both debuted for Washington teams in October of 2003. Nakia Sanford came to the Mystics in the same year. That's a full seven years after Moreno had already won a title here.
"Maybe it means I'm getting older, too," Mathai joked, when we were discussing Moreno's career. And it's a fine point. I moved here in 1998, and as long as Moreno was still playing - as essentially the only remaining D.C. sports figure from the '90s - part of me could still be a 22-year-old kid living with four grubby friends in a two-bedroom apartment near RFK. That generation of Washington sports is gone with Moreno.
Mathai described the emotions of this week as "almost an undefinable thing," and I don't think all this emotion talk is hyperbole. How many of us have children who have been a part of our life for a half, or as third as long as Moreno has?
"All week long, I've been feeling down. Just sad. He wouldn't know me from Adam, but I've watched him for 15 years of my life," Mathai said. ""Longevity is definitely a part of greatness."
| October 22, 2010; 12:13 AM ET
Categories: D.C. United
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