On Saturday night, Jaime Moreno took the pitch for the last time as a member of DC United. The United and MLS legend is the league’s all-time leading goal scorer and the only player with triple digit goals and assists in his career. When MLS was first formed, he was one of the league’s first stars, a young Bolivian with a knack for scoring. It was he with Marco Etcheverry, Ben Olsen, and Eddie Pope that helped United become MLS royalty and make United the league’s most successful club.
In his final game, it was only appropriate that he converted a 39th minute penalty kick for his 133rd, and final, MLS goal. It was the second United goal of the first half (which, for them, is a goal scoring explosion) but his farewell was spoiled by two Dwayne De Rosario second-half goals to give visiting Toronto FC the 3-2 victory. In the 81st minute Danny Allsop was substituted for Moreno, allowing him a richly deserved ovation and moment in the sun.
When such a player retires, it is appropriate for fans to look back and consider the impact a player had on the sport and his club. For United fans, it is undeniable that Moreno helped propel he club to heights it may not have otherwise reached. New MLS fans missed the glory days of United, when they won three of the first four MLS Cups. Except for a season in New York, he was a career United player who reinvented himself in the early 2000s to help United win their fourth MLS Cup in 2004. While never named MVP, he did win a Golden Boot and was named to the MLS Best XI five times. Undeniably he is a DC United great.
But for the MLS this retirement has a different meaning. Moreno was the last player to have played for MLS throughout its existence; beginning next season every player will have joined after 1996 or left MLS at some point. Also this weekend, LA Galaxy teammates Eddie Lewis and Chris Klein both announced they will retire after the playoffs. Lewis was a starter on the 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads but was also a member of San Jose from 1996-1999. Klein holds the record for most consecutive MLS matches played (141) and will retire fifth on the all-time appearances list.
Time makes these retirements inevitable, but it also shows the passing of an earlier era. These were the players who made their mark when the league was still a novelty: the uniforms were kind of silly, the play was vastly inferior to most European leagues, and matches were played in converted football stadiums. Now, the league has achieved a degree of respect internationally with the signings of Beckham and Henry. The level of play has been elevated to the point where fans can see multiple legitimate World Cup veterans play on both sides of the pitch. Most of the clubs play in beautiful new soccer-only stadiums (don’t tell DC fans). The league has come a long way since 1996, and as the final stars of the first decade of the league retire, MLS can firmly move on into the future. It’s like a child who when they begin high school respectfully put away their dolls or toy cars into the closet; sometimes the vestiges of childhood need to be moved aside for growth to continue. We thank you Jaime for doing so much for MLS and especially for DC United, but it’s time to continue forward and for MLS to keep growing.