- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

D.C. United may be saying goodbye to an era tonight in the regular-season finale at RFK Stadium.
Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Eddie Pope carried the club to unprecedented glory during the late 1990s by winning three Major League Soccer Cups, a U.S. Open Cup, a CONCACAF Champions Cup and an Interamerican Cup.
With a third straight losing season already guaranteed and the Big Three eating up almost half of the team's $1.7million salary cap, United coach Ray Hudson must make difficult offseason roster decisions regarding the future of his team.
United's performance this season should make it easy for Hudson to make those decisions. Hudson knows if he brings back all three at their current salary, a fourth straight losing record could be forthcoming.
"The value is what you look at," Hudson said. "The 'V' word is huge in MLS. If you're getting an Ivan McKinley playing for $40,000 dollars and performing the way he has done, it's tremendous value. Is he the fastest, greatest player in the league? No, but he's a great value on the money that we pay him. They've had their opportunities to show me. That's the thing. They've been on the stage and we've danced. It's literally like a Broadway show. Do you want to pay your money and watch that again? Is that good enough? Did those performers demonstrate that level of entertainment?"
Moreno's and Etcheverry's contracts expire at the end of the season.
United paid Moreno the league maximum $265,000 this season for three goals and four assists. He played in just 15 games because of various injuries. In an interview with The Washington Times following United's 2-1 victory over the New York/New Jersey MetroStars last Saturday, Moreno sounded like he was already out the door.
"When I end my career, D.C. United will always mean something special," said Moreno, United's all-time leading goal scorer with 69. "I would love to stay here, but anything could happen."
Etcheverry, United's central playmaker, has just five assists this season after averaging 14 over his previous six seasons. Etcheverry agreed to a slight pay cut this year and is having his worst season in MLS. He said he will not agree to another pay cut to play in MLS next season.
"No, because I did it last year," Etcheverry said. "I'm working too hard to get less money."
Because of World Cup commitments and injury, Pope will appear in a career-low 16 games, including tonight when United (9-13-5) faces the Dallas Burn.
Of the three, Pope appears the most likely to return. He signed a long-term contract in 1998 to remain in a United uniform through 2004.
To compound United's salary-cap problems, teen-age prodigy Santino Quaranta loses his Project-40 protection after the season and will require a real paycheck. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando will earn a substantial pay increase after his brilliant season on a losing team and defender Ryan Nelsen enters an option year with the league.
Nelsen, a New Zealand national teamer, said he is drawing interest from English clubs and would not play another season in MLS at his current salary.
Hudson said the key to his team's salary-cap dilemma is wisely spreading the money around. After a season in which United went 0-6-4 during a 10-game stretch from early July to late August, was 1-10-3 on the road, had a club-record scoreless streak of 535 minutes over five games and failed to score a goal in 12 MLS games, the club may trade its first-round draft pick for proven players. United might be wise to part with its pick expected to be in the top three and scrap the youth movement that has failed to get the team back to a championship level over the past three seasons.
"Maximum-salary players are fine and good if they play five-star performances in virtually 90 percent of your games," Hudson said. "That hasn't been the case this year. It's not like this has happened overnight. This could be the third consecutive year without the playoffs. That's an indictment of this club. The challenge for me is to get the right players in."
Note D.C. United midfielder Lazo Alavanja was involved in a car accident on his way to training yesterday at RFK. Alavanja suffered a broken right collarbone and a stiff neck in the crash. No surgery is necessary. Alavanja was treated and released at Washington Hospital Center and his recovery is expected to last four to six weeks.



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