By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 24, 2006
D.C. United celebrated its past and was finally able to feel a whole lot better about its present.
And in both cases, Jaime Moreno was in the center of things.
On an emotional night when the club honored its 1996 MLS championship team, Moreno, the only player remaining from that pioneering squad, inspired a second-half surge that propelled badly short-handed United to a wild, 4-3 victory over the New York Red Bulls before 21,727 at RFK Stadium.
Moreno -- excused from two practices last week and held out of the starting lineup for the first time this season in an attempt to reenergize him for the stretch run -- needed just three minutes to set up Christian Gomez's tiebreaking goal early in the second half.
Following United defender Facundo Erpen's ejection, Moreno made it 3-1 in the 73rd minute. Amado Guevara's second goal of the game cut the deficit with about eight minutes remaining before the Bolivian forward was credited with an assist on Matias Donnet's spectacular goal in the 89th.
Josmer Altidore, 16, scored during injury time for the Red Bulls, the final act in a vital late-season match that left United (15-4-10) with the Eastern Conference regular season title and New York (7-11-11) in desperate need of victories to reach the playoffs.
"Next week I will give them all three days off so they will all be playing like Jaime," Coach Peter Nowak said, grinning.
Moreno admitted he had not played well for several weeks and was one of the reasons for United's 1-3-5 rut. With time off, Moreno relaxed with his family, took to the golf course and reluctantly accepted his wife's gift of a day at the spa. ("I don't like that stuff," he said. "Things like that aren't usually for the guy, but I think it helped me.") Moreno, in his 10th season with United and 11th in the league, participated in the pregame ceremony along with 15 of his former teammates and his old coach, Bruce Arena, now in charge of the Red Bulls. But when the starters took the field, Moreno was not there.
With the match tied 1-1 in the 57th minute, however, Nowak sent him in.
"It was good what I did [earlier in the week] and I felt like my legs were fresh," Moreno said. "I think it showed in the game but I won't say anything until I'm in the final and my legs feel the same way."
In the 60th minute, Moreno slipped a gentle pass through to Gomez, who slid an angled shot under Tony Meola for his 11th goal of the year.
After Erpen was tossed for retaliating against John Wolyniec by stomping on his foot in clear view of referee Kevin Stott, Gomez threaded the ball to Ben Olsen, who sailed in alone before passing to his left for Moreno to finish for his 11th of the season.
In a back-and-forth final 10 minutes, Guevara squeezed a 20-yarder into the upper corner, Donnet answered with a 25-yard shot that streaked over Meola and Altidore beat goalkeeper Troy Perkins to the far corner.
"It was kind of fun," Perkins said. "The whole game we were under pressure and, going into the postseason, that's what we needed. We did a lot of things really well and we finally got our offense going."
United, which had scored just nine goals in its previous nine games, did it without suspended starters Bryan Namoff, Brian Carroll and Josh Gros and injured forward Alecko Eskandarian. And despite Erpen's premature departure, United attacked fluently and pressured the Red Bulls to produce their highest-scoring effort since May 31.
Reserve forward Jamil Walker, and rookies Rod Dyachenko and Jeff Carroll received starting assignments. "That's what this team is all about -- to show our depth in times like this," Olsen said.
Nowak's assessment was predictably mixed.
"You cannot play such a wonderful game and give so many gifts to the other team," he said. "We score beautiful goals, we fight for 90 minutes, but the gifts and another red card, it's unacceptable. We can not have this kind of mentality at the end of the season."
United had gone ahead early on an own goal, but relinquished the lead on Guevara's penalty kick.
At halftime, United honored former playmaker Marco Etcheverry, known as "El Diablo," with a moving ceremony that included a video tribute put to the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," and the unveiling of his name on the Tradition of Excellence banner behind the south goal.
It was a touching moment on an emotional evening, and it did not take long for the second half to follow course.