As D.C. United rolled into practice yesterday morning in Herndon, it stumbled upon a much-appreciated gift. Well, half a gift.
Jaime Moreno was back, but Marco Etcheverry was not. Moreno won't be here long, though, just long enough to play tonight against Colorado at RFK Stadium.
Both players were with the Bolivian national team for the Copa America tournament in Paraguay. From there, Moreno and Etcheverry went back to Bolivia on Wednesday. Moreno arrived here Thursday night after a 10-hour flight. He'll return to Bolivia on Sunday for more work with the Bolivian national team.
"You get tired when you do it like that," Moreno said. "But we're professionals. We have to handle it."
Etcheverry planned to return with Moreno, but he is still bothered by a heel injury and would not have been available Saturday anyway, United Coach Thomas Rongen said. Nonetheless, Moreno's arrival was a pleasant surprise.
"When everybody saw him this morning, morale just shot up 100 percent," United defender Eddie Pope said after yesterday's practice. "You could see everybody's spirits light up."
Rongen laughingly compared the feeling to "a group hug," one that would look a lot like the team picture for the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference all-star team. Four more United players were added to the East squad yesterday to go with the six who were voted to start.
The additions of Moreno, midfielder Richie Williams and defenders Carlos Llamosa and Diego Sonora make the United contingent one-half of the 20-player East team. And in a rarity, it looks like all 10 United all-stars will actually be available for the July 17 game in San Diego.
The seven United stars who will be practicing with the U.S. national team in Colorado Springs will be released for the All-Star Game, and Etcheverry and Moreno are expected to take a short flight to San Diego from Mexico, where they will be preparing with the Bolivian national team for the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Rongen won't have all 10 all-stars at his disposal tonight, but he may have one of his most complete lineups of the season for the match between Eastern-leading United (12-6, 30 points) and Western-leading Colorado (11-4, 29 points). That will depend in part on Pope, who may not play because of a sprained left knee (medial collateral ligament).
Pope said he was unsure if he could have played if the game was yesterday.
"I'd probably play, but it probably wouldn't be the smartest thing," Pope said. "I'd play through the pain."
Because of the Confederations Cup, United plays just one more game before Aug. 8. Llamosa will miss this game after receiving a red card in Columbus on Wednesday.
"We'll see what we have," forward Roy Lassiter said. "We've done it without several guys, but we have to live with it and go on."
It took some effort, but United got Moreno. Rongen said United had to haggle with the Bolivian national federation, which tried to renege on a promise to release Moreno and Etcheverry. Etcheverry became a moot point because of his heel injury, and Moreno resisted pressure to stay home.
"Jaime is a great player and a very likable person," Rongen said. "It's a little psychological boost. He wanted to see his family and he wanted to play. He knows where his bread is buttered, and it's with D.C. United, not Bolivia."
D.C. UNITED PREVIEW
Game: vs. Colorado Rapids.
Where: RFK Stadium.
When: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WACA-1540 (Spanish).
Records: United 12-6, 30 points; Rapids 11-4, 29 points.
D.C. Probable Starters: GK -- Tom Presthus; D -- Eddie Pope, Carey Talley, Jeff Agoos; MF -- Diego Sonora, Richie Williams, Brian Kamler, Ben Olsen, Geoff Aunger; F -- Jaime Moreno (5 goals, 4 assists), Roy Lassiter (14 goals, 6 assists).
Rapids Top Players: F Wolde Harris (7 goals, 6 assists), F Paul Bravo (7 goals, 4 assists), MF Jorge Dely Valdes, MF Ross Paule, MF-D Marcelo Balboa.