The D.C. United offense is stacked with one of the best attacking players in the MLS in Luciano Acosta — a guy whose name was tossed around with the likes of PSG over the January transfer window — and one of the most recognizable names and faces on the planet in Wayne Rooney.
On the wings are U.S. men’s national team regular Paul Arriola and shiny new arrival Lucas “Titi” Rodriguez, the 21-year-old surrounded by high expectations. Although the defense isn’t rife with star power, the back line hasn’t allowed a goal through 180 minutes and is receiving a ton of attention. In goal, of course, Bill Hamid is one of the best in the league.
In the midfield, Russel Canouse’s monster game against Atlanta United added his name to quite a few search engines after Week 1, and that performance came not long after a call-up to Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT camp. On the bench is U20 starlet Chris Durkin, a kid who, at just 19 years of age, is already periodically linked to bigger European clubs; his talent is immediately apparent when you see him zip 30-yard passes on a rope, and his playing time last year — during some injury-ridden times for the midfield — will certainly help his spot on the first team this year.
Then there’s Junior Moreno. He’s not the first (or the second, or probably even the fourth or fifth) name you’d call up when talking about D.C. United, but the Venezuelan — who just earned a call-up to his national team — has been indispensable for the Black-and-Red.
“[The defense is] working for each other,” Frederic Brillant said in training this week. “We have a good understanding of each other. We work hard to keep the clean sheets. It's a good start against two good teams. The champions from last year, Atlanta, was a tough game, but we did well. It was a tough game against New York, especially at Yankee Stadium, the field and the weather wasn't great. It's important to start well, and show who we are, and what we expect for the future.”
The French center back isn’t talking about Moreno specifically, but the element he identifies — the “understanding,” the cohesion — has been achieved in large part due to No. 5.
Against Atlanta, Moreno played box-to-box, logged 86 touches with an 87-percent pass completion rate, he was solid on defense with three tackles and two interceptions, and he added a shot on target — which I’m sure he’d like to do over against — and a key pass. In other words, he was everywhere on both ends. His touch count was second only to Acosta (88) and his decisions of when to move forward and when to stay deep were impeccable.
At Yankee Stadium the next weekend against NYC FC, Moreno played a bit of a different role but was equally effective. Once again he finished second on the team in touches (55) just behind Acosta (59), but whereas Canouse played the wrecking ball against Atlanta with eight tackles, Moreno took over that role in New York, knocking six players off the ball — more than double anyone else on the team — and clearing four balls, trailing only Steve Birnbaum.
The stats are one thing, but the consistency through 180 minutes is another. DCU’s first two games presented two unique challenges, the first against the defending champs with a still-loaded roster, the second in tough conditions where the Black-and-Red have not historically succeeded. Yet in each game the midfield, led by Canouse and Moreno, has been the glue.
If Moreno continues to play like this, he may just be one of those first few players you mention when you talk about D.C. United.