Moments after D.C. United won its third Major League Soccer title in four years, soundly defeating the L.A. Galaxy this afternoon by a 2-0 score at Foxboro Stadium, star forward Jaime Moreno pulled his championship T-shirt over his head and stumbled red-eyed through the chaotic celebration on the field.
Moreno, who scored the game's first goal, waded past a crush of television cameras and reporters, searching for teammates to congratulate. Around midfield, he happened upon midfielder Marco Etcheverry, a fellow Bolivian and, like Moreno, a starter on all of United's title-winning teams.
The players grabbed each other in a fierce embrace, pulling tightly. They both began to sob, their backs heaving and muffled cries escaping over their shoulders. Moreno pressed his hand over his eyes, trying to hide his tears. For a moment, it seemed, the noisy din of drumbeats and cheers from the thousands of D.C. United fans populating the crowd of 44,910 went silent.
Somehow, winning hasn't become commonplace for D.C. United, which spent this season aiming to regain the championship crown it lost to the expansion Chicago Fire last year. United leads the four-year-old MLS in nearly every significant statistical category: regular season victories (84), playoff victories (19), goals (316) and championship game appearances (4).
The league has struggled to get its bearings since its inception in 1996, fighting revenue problems and declining attendance, but there has been one certainty over its four years: the dominance of the flashy team that plays in front of arguably the most rabid fans in the league.
"These type of games never get old," said defender Jeff Agoos, who, along with Moreno, Etcheverry, Eddie Pope and Richie Williams, has been a starter on all three title teams. "Hopefully, there will be a lot more of these in my future and this team's future."
United's run of success contrasts with the recent fortunes of other Washington area teams: The Redskins have missed the playoffs the past six seasons, the Wizards haven't won a playoff series since 1982 and the Capitals advanced to the 1998 Stanley Cup finals only to miss the playoffs last season.
Today, United came armed with its usual band of zealous fans. Thousands made the journey north, allowing the team's two fan clubs to flaunt a wild and raucous presence. The Barra Brava--"The crazed ones"--bounced and sang and taunted the Galaxy from a section behind United's first-half goal. The Screaming Eagles, a less clamorous but just as enthusiastic group, occupied a section in a middle deck.
Was it any coincidence that, seconds before Moreno's goal in the 19th minute, the Barra Brava had been making a derogatory chant about the goalkeeper?
When the ball sailed past Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, Moreno let out a scream and took a giant leap over the wooden wall behind the goal. He bounded straight for the Barra Brava section, where he and his trailing teammates were swallowed by the revelers. As players peeled themselves away from the exultant fans, their hair, necks and jerseys carried away multi-colored pieces of confetti--thrown by fans, pasted on by perspiration.
"I want to tattoo 'D.C. United' on my heart,' " an emotional Etcheverry--doused with champagne--said in the locker room. "D.C. fans, I thank you. . . . All year, it was sad, waiting for the chance to be champions again."
If this team felt nervous about today's task, it was not apparent. The players and staff displayed an icy cool during the game--and before it. Three hours before the start, Moreno dropped into a chair in the lobby of the team hotel. Next to him sat first-year coach Thomas Rongen, who lit a cigarette. Across the table was General Manager Kevin Payne, at whose feet were a stack of game videos and a cup of coffee. The trio was joined by assistant coach Dave Sarachan.
It looked to be a pregame meeting, perhaps to discuss strategy.
It turned out to be nothing more than a friendly card game: hearts. The foursome played for nearly an hour before boarding the team bus for the ride to the stadium.
"We all felt very comfortable," Sarachan said. "These guys have such experience playing in big games."
Twenty-two-year-old Ben Olsen, who scored the second goal in the 45th minute and earned most valuable player honors in the game, called his long, looping goal--which was set up by an error by Hartman--"Heaven sent." He said his older teammates provided connect-the-dot guidance for him and other younger players throughout the season.
"The young guys, we just run around and do what the older guys say," Olsen said. "They have so much experience, so much knowledge and they give you so much motivation. They are such good guys, we just rally around them and they take us to championships."
CAPTION: D.C. United and defender Carlos Llamosa get their hands on the Major League Soccer trophy.