Jaime Moreno, after 15 seasons in MLS, is done. The D.C. United legend will say goodbye on Saturday at RFK Stadium.
What he leaves behind is hard to put into words or even thoughts. He will always be remembered for his numbers—132 goals, four MLS Cups, five Best XI nods—and for the highlight images he produced as one of the subtlest magicians this league has ever seen or will ever see.
But he also leaves behind something much more. The very league itself.
Like Moreno himself when he first showed up in DC in 1996, the newly launched MLS teetered with doubts. Could it last? Was it just a post-World Cup flash-in-the-pan that looked shiny and fun, but would have trouble gaining any momentum or building a lasting foundation?
Well, those questions have been answered. And Moreno—like some of the other retiring veterans: C.J. Brown, Mike Petke, Chris Klein—has played as big a part of that as any. Without brilliant players who practically willed the level of the league to improve, we wouldn’t have the stable MLS that we have today, one that is attracting world icons and developing exciting young talent.
Moreno, a product of the famous Tahuichi Academy and the first Bolivian to play in the English Premier League, had the talent to compete in anywhere in the world, but he chose to put it into effect here in the fledgling MLS for a new club with no tradition. It was a sacrifice, in some ways, but one whose stature has grown with each milestone the league reaches.
Moreno will always have the stats and the trophies and the love of the D.C. United faithful.
But he deserves more than that. He deserves the admiration of anyone who believes in soccer in the United States and Canada. That's because he believed in it, and he isn’t even from this continent.
I asked longtime Kansas City Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad what he would say if he could say one last thing to Moreno. Conrad’s answer said it all.
“Thank you,” Conrad said softly. “Thank you for giving MLS your best years and for staying in the league and being one of the best ever.”
Ready to Launch: MLS Matchday 2010, The new official MLS iPhone app. It's FREE! Download it here!