Enrique Centeno Reneau, a popular former pro soccer player from Honduras who spent three years in New Orleans painting buildings and playing in adult leagues at City Park, died Sunday in his home country of complications from multiple sclerosis. He was 44.
Before coming to New Orleans, Reneau played for clubs in Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador and Mexico during his two decades in the world of professional soccer. A forward and attacking midfielder, he also was a member of Honduras’ national team.
Nicknamed “Estilete” — or “stiletto” — because of his lean frame, Reneau is best remembered in soccer circles for scoring the goal that won Club Deportivo Victoria its first of only two Honduran league titles in 1995.
A year later, during a 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying match, he became the first player to score a goal for Honduras at the historic Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, in a losing effort against a Mexican squad that at the time was the strongest national soccer team in the region encompassing North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
“That was a dream for Honduras back then, to at least score a goal against Mexico in the Azteca,” said Renan Rodriguez, editor of New Orleans’ Hispanic sports newspaper Todosport. “It was one of the reasons he would become so admired.”
Not long after he retired as a pro in 2006, Reneau accepted an offer to join the Renato Varela adult soccer league at City Park in New Orleans, where ex-pros and other talented players can earn stipends from teams. He also played in other similar leagues at City Park, which draw spectators from the tens of thousands of Hispanics living in the New Orleans area.
Meanwhile, Reneau worked as a home and commercial painter in the early phases of New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina. That, too, is common work for former Hispanic athletes who come to play at the adult soccer leagues at City Park.
Juan Carlos Ramos, president of the Renato Varela league, said Reneau was always mild-mannered and affable despite competing in matches that could become quite intense.
Rodriguez agreed. “He was very respectful, very gentlemanly and very accessible to fans and the media,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone here loved him.”
Reneau relocated to Miami and then Baltimore after about three years in New Orleans, but he continued playing soccer and painting. Then, while playing a match in 2013, he suddenly had trouble waving one of his arms.
Before long, he was unable to grip a paintbrush, and he learned he had multiple sclerosis.
Supporters rallied, donating money to help pay for his treatment. An exhibition match this year at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park for Reneau’s benefit featured numerous Honduran soccer stars and attracted a crowd of thousands.
Reneau, the father of three children, died at a hospital in La Ceiba, Honduras.
Though he wasn’t in New Orleans long, those he met in the city remained in his thoughts.
“They gave me a lot of help. For three years, they gave me a roof to live under, and I paid them back by playing for and teaching (them),” Reneau said in one of his last Honduran media interviews. “I had success there — thanks to God.”