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Mike Wise

United's Moreno Reaches Out, Touches Someone

By Mike Wise
Monday, November 15, 2004; Page D01

CARSON, Calif.

Danilo Diron is graying and gaunt, but he is happy. He is so happy about D.C. United's championship that he is crying, and Jaime Moreno is clutching his wet cheeks with both hands, smudging the older man's tears.

Diron, 59, is the color commentator for WACA Radio America, the main Spanish-language station that broadcasts United's games. Moreno is the 30-year-old forward who returned from debilitating back surgery last fall -- a surgery that threatened to end his career. Moreno came back as resiliently as an athlete can, contending for the league's most valuable player award this season.

_____ From The Post _____
 Cup
About 500 D.C. United fans show up at RFK on Tuesday to honor the team's victory.
United wins their fourth MLS championship with a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Wizards.
Mike Wise: Jaime Moreno reaches out and touches someone.
Four years might not be a long time between championships unless you're a United fan.
Notebook: Earnie Stewart announces he will not be back with United next year.

_____ Video _____
Fans congratulate D.C. United at a rally Tuesday at RFK.

_____ Discussion _____
Share your thoughts on United's fourth MLS Cup victory.

_____ Gallery _____
Experience United's championship victory through photos.

_____United Basics_____
United Section
Roster
Schedule
Statistics
_____Wizards Basics_____
Wizards page
Roster
Schedule
Statistics

Diron is trying to come back, too. From liver cancer. He has eight more sessions of chemotherapy left, and then he will pray. Moreno, as he has every week this season, will telephone Diron on Monday to raise his spirits. He will pray, too.

In the middle of champagne-and-stogie madness, in the middle of the first Major League Soccer championship in five years for United, two men held each other for several moments in the victors' locker room, talking and weeping.

An interpreter explains why Diron was crying: "Jaime dedicated the success of the championship to Diron because he is suffering from the liver cancer," the man said. "This makes his heart feel very good."

Diron, from Uruguay, and Moreno, from Bolivia, are fluent in two languages: Español and futbol.

Their connection to this franchise and its passionate Latino fan base sometimes gets lost in the preoccupation with young Freddy Adu and hot-blooded, first-year coach Peter Nowak. Even after their defining win, a 3-2 thriller over the Kansas City Wizards for their fourth MLS Cup in nine years, United players were represented at the postgame news conference by Adu, Nowak and Alecko Eskandarian, the match's most valuable player who scored two goals.

Moreno, the man most responsible for getting them here, shuffled back almost anonymously into a quiet corner of the locker room, content knowing that he had a great season. Eight of his nine seasons have been spent in Washington. He is the only United player remaining from the 1996 championship season. Moreno played for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars last year, but injuries ruined his season and led to the club essentially not picking up his rights.

Either out of loyalty, need or both, United wanted to see if he had any old magic in those legs. He responded with 14 assists, the most by any MLS player this season, along with seven goals.

Diron was there for every game, even after the diagnosis, rooting for his friend while trying to maintain a semblance of objectivity. But that was a waste. His heart pulled hard for Moreno. And, if we're being honest, there are few purer moments in sports than watching a Latin American announcer, whose dreams are tethered to his team, just completely give in to his inner fan, to emotionally pull for a player like Moreno the way Diron does.

Jaime Moreno, the comeback story of the season, was playing for him, after all. Moreno's struggle to show he belonged again resonated with Diron as his health began to decline.

You ask Diron to explain to the interpreter what he told Moreno. "He told Jaime, 'I don't care what they say, you won everything. The MVP award during the regular season. Everything.'

"They are very close," the interpreter added. "Jaime calls him every Monday, joking 'How are you, old man? You doing good?' He is the only player to do this."

Moreno was asked if he ever imagined, as a little boy in Bolivia, spending almost a decade in America playing professional soccer.

"It's a funny thing about that," he said. "I never imagined growing up in Bolivia that I would play all these years in D.C. The best moments of my life were in D.C. and Virginia. It is where my kids were born, where I own my second house."

He walks toward his teammates in another part of the locker room, embracing and hugging each player.

Every championship locker room has its surreal characters and moments. Whether it's Snoop Dogg parading around the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room in 2000, smelling of herbs, yelling "We did it! We did it!" or Jaleel White, the actor who played the Steve Urkel character on the 1990s sitcom "Family Matters," embracing little Freddy Adu and his family. The combination of cheap champagne and cigar smoke always give these loud and noisy dens the aroma of a seven-card stud table after midnight.

But in the nooks and crannies of these celebrations can be found the rhythm and the heart of a great team, little moments shared by proud men who overcame so much to hold each other in a championship embrace.

"I'm so happy what happened," Moreno said, as he let go of Diron, who was still weeping.

"You have dreams, you know? But never like this."


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