D.C. United forward Jaime Moreno, one of Major League Soccer's top young players, has joined most of his high-profile teammates by signing a long-term contract extension with the league.
The agreement runs through the 2002 season and although financial terms were not disclosed, Moreno's base salary is expected to rise from an estimated $200,000 to the league maximum of about $250,000. According to sources, the deal also includes a signing bonus of several hundred thousand dollars and some performance incentives.
Moreno had two option years remaining on his initial agreement.
United's Marco Etcheverry, Eddie Pope, Carlos Llamosa, Jeff Agoos, Ben Olsen and Richie Williams also have signed long-term deals in the past year. Under MLS's single-entity structure, the league, rather than the individual teams, owns and primarily negotiates player contracts.
Moreno's contract also apparently has an escape clause if the league receives a lucrative offer for his services from a European or Latin American club. In a written statement, Moreno said: "It's a good contract. Now I am thinking long-term about American soccer, and if I had the chance to go somewhere else, this won't make it as hard."
Ivan Gazidis, MLS's executive vice president who oversees contract negotiations, wouldn't elaborate on the deal but said: "He's only 25 and he's still got a lot of soccer ahead of him. . . . We've got to expect these type of opportunities are going to come to players of his ability. If something comes up, I don't think you can ever say never and rule it out, but I don't think that is where his mind is focused right now. I think his mind is focused 100 percent with Major League Soccer."
After this season MLS likely will sell the rights to Columbus Crew star Stern John, a Trinidadian forward who is being pursued by, among others, English club Nottingham Forest.
Moreno, a Bolivian, is fifth on MLS's all-time regular season scoring list with 45 goals and 35 assists for 125 points, but has played in far fewer games (85) than all of the players ahead of him.
Moreno joined the league from Middlesbrough in England late in the 1996 season, and since then has helped United advance to the MLS title game three consecutive years.
This year Moreno had 10 goals and 13 assists in 25 regular season games and scored both goals in United's 2-0 playoff-opening victory over the Miami Fusion last weekend at RFK Stadium. He was named the team's MVP last week.
"We're very happy about the fact we've got a lot of key players under long-term contract," United President and General Manager Kevin Payne said. "We should be in a position to have some real stability for the future."