It is a great luxury when a team has a player they know they can count on. The kind of player who makes critical plays at key moments, the kind of player who can change an entire season with one stroke of brilliance, the kind of player who leads by example and is an inspiration to his teammates. Teams cannot be successful without a player like this and D.C. United has two of them.
Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez have been outstanding for D.C. United this season. They have guided the offense since the opening match of the season, and their statistics speak for themselves. Moreno has scored 13 goals, and Gomez earned his 10th this weekend. This is the fifth season in which D.C. United has had at least two players score 10 or more goals; each previous time has led to a trip to the MLS Cup.
Perhaps even more important than the number of their goals and assists is their leadership. Neither one is very vocal on the field, but with a quiet confidence they have an impact on the attitudes of their teammates that cannot be measured. Both Moreno and Gomez lead by example, and when they are on the field for United the rest of the team knows that no matter the circumstances each has the ability to make a decisive play at any moment. That ability spreads confidence through the team and fosters the attitudes that champions need. A perfect example of the character of Moreno and Gomez occurred at RFK Stadium this past weekend.
Against Colorado on Saturday, D.C. United was dominating play and creating chance after chance. Nevertheless, nearly halfway through the second half the match was still scoreless, and it seemed as though the game might be headed towards a dominating, but goalless, performance for United. Then in the 64th minute, Gomez had a free kick from near the corner of the penalty area.
It was a position where many MLS teams have seen Gomez whip in a cross and pick up an assist. Gomez had already had a few opportunities to set up his teammates from similar set pieces in the match, but instead of trying to pick out a teammate in the box, Gomez chose the direct route. He sent a curling ball towards the goal, the goalkeeper was probably a little surprised to see a shot instead of a cross, and by the time he reacted the ball was already at the upper ninety. The goalie could only get his fingertips to it and Gomez had broken the ice and the spirit of the Rapids.
Moments later United put together one of the most beautiful goals of the season, using brilliant interplay and a clinical finish. Santino Quaranta made a 40-yard run through the midfield, back heeled to Dema Kovalenko, who slotted a through ball into the box for Moreno. Moreno's angle was too sharp, so he faked a shot and cut the ball back to his left foot. By that time there were a number of defenders charging into the six-yard box, and Moreno only had a few inches to thread the ball and avoid the defenders. It was all the space he needed. The shot went perfectly through the crowd of Rapids and into the side netting.
Neither Gomez nor Moreno may win the MLS MVP this season, although they are both deserving of it. Last season, Moreno was the only true candidate for league MVP and, somehow, he was overlooked. Although it hurt Moreno to be snubbed for the award, he was truly happier to lift the MLS Cup trophy. In some ways, the two players who have complimented each other so perfectly on the field all season long have worked against each other for the MVP voting. Both players have become very focused lately, and even though the league may not recognize them, when the playoffs begin in a few weeks, Moreno and Gomez will be able to show just how valuable they are.
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.