One of the greatest honors in all of sports is to have your jersey number retired. In soccer, since so few numbers are ever used, retiring a jersey is not a practical tribute. On very rare occasions, soccer teams will pay homage to the greatest players by retiring a number, but the circumstances have to be extraordinary.
One such set of circumstances might have been in place for D.C. United after the retirement of Marco Etcheverry. No player can ever mean more to D.C. United than Marco Etcheverry. Period. When 'El Diablo' took off the United No. 10 jersey for the final time, there was a real chance that no one else would ever wear it again. But then D.C. United found Christian Gomez.
It's not fair to either Gomez or Etcheverry to compare the two players. Etcheverry's legacy has been established, and Gomez is a relative newcomer to MLS and D.C. United. But, after carefully examining what has transpired since Gomez' arrival to D.C., his impact is undeniable.
On August 21, 2004, D.C. United had a league match against Columbus at Crew Stadium. Earnie Stewart was substituted out of the match in the 71st minute and Christian Gomez began his Major League Soccer career with United trailing 2-1. Five minutes after Gomez entered the match, D.C. United were awarded a penalty, which Jaime Moreno converted to earn D.C. a 2-2 draw. Gomez has started every single match since then.
D.C. United has played 18 matches since that game in Columbus last season; their record is 13-2-3. Gomez has had a major role in the attacking third since he debuted, but because of his mild-mannered attitude, it is easy for him to be unjustly overlooked at times. In those 18 competitive matches, Gomez has scored seven goals and collected three assists.
In the penultimate regular season game, Gomez scored the game-winning goal against New England. In the regular season finale he had a pair of goals against the MetroStars to help United take over second place for the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Gomez scored a goal for United to give D.C. a 3-2 lead. In the two matches of 2005, Gomez already has a goal and an assist.
Gomez's excellence has not been limited to league play. In the quarterfinal series of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, Gomez collected the game-winning assist in the first leg, as well as the series-winning assist in the second. His timely header against Pumas last week in the first match of the semifinal round ensured that D.C. will have a fighting chance to advance to the finals of that prestigious tournament.
Jaime Moreno is the team captain and leader of D.C. United whose presence in the final third of the field is critical to United's success. Alecko Eskandarian is the reigning MLS Cup MVP and the best goal scorer on the roster. Freddy Adu is America's youngest hero whose skills and speed make defenders start backpedaling as soon as he steps on the field. These three players are the ones who make most of the headlines for United, and they all deserve the respect and attention that they get.
But for people who understand the subtleties of the United attack, it's clear that Moreno, Eskandarian, Adu and all of the United players are made better and more formidable when playing alongside D.C. United's new No. 10.
Tony Limarzi is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is also the voice of D.C. United soccer, calling all of the Black-and-Red's games live on WMET.