For the Black-and-Red, defense is critical. With standout center backs Steven Birnbaum and Frédéric Brillant, MLS veteran goalkeepers Steve Clark and David Ousted, and United’s 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Kofi Opare at the heart of the back line, the Black-and-Red are well-versed in defending. Leidos—the presenting partner of D.C. United—provides systems, solutions, and services covering air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace for Defense and Intelligence customers worldwide. Sponsored by Leidos, this weekly feature delves into some of the defensive storylines for United.
While Saturday's big win over the Colorado Rapids at Audi Field may have been headlined by Wayne Rooney's first career Major League Soccer goal, the match also featured impressive performances from defensive midfielder Russell Canouse and defender Kofi Opare in their first starts of 2018.
Canouse, who spent the first half of the season recovering from injury and did not pick up his first minutes of 2018 until July 14, started in the center midfield along Luciano Acosta and provided added energy and work rate on both sides of the ball. The midfielder got involved in the attack and found a handfull of promising opportunities in front of goal, but was even more valuable on the defensive end, using his grit and physicality to disrupt the Rapids all night. With five duels won, two tackles, two interceptions, and 85% passing accuracy on the evening, Canouse's performance earned him a spot on MLS' Week 22 Team of the Week.
"I think I was pretty good, I tried to be tuned in from the first minute on," Canouse said following the game. "It is something I want to build on and [Saturday] was a good night."
Opare, United's 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, also logged a strong 90 minutes in the back line during his first start of the season and his first appearance since April 14. Slotting in the center back position alongside Steven Birnbaum, Opare helped preserve United's lead and limit Colorado's chances with his size and discipline as part of the back four. The defender won seven duels and five aerials, and tallied four recoveries and two tackles in the 2-1 win.
"It had been a while since I had been on the pitch so obviously it was something I had been waiting for, but just to be able to help the team get a win, for me that's my biggest satisfaction," Opare said. "I was happy to contribute any way I could."
With their first starts of the year under their belts, Canouse and Opare now focus on building on their performances and doing what they can to help the Black-and-Red make a run up the Eastern Conference standings. United are preparing for three months loaded with home matches and a number of multi-match weeks, meaning lineup adjustments could be in the works as the Black-and-Red focus on staying healthy and energized in their pursuit of points. Regardless of which combinations of players start for United in the coming weeks, both Canouse and Opare are ready to do what it takes to contribute to the team's common goal of making a late push at the playoffs.
"I think the next 16 games, every game is important but obviously any time you get a win you want to start a run and build on it," Canouse said. "That is our goal going forward and next week on an away game we want to try and get three points, it does not matter who it is. I think we can build on a performance like Saturday."
"Our goal, most importantly, is to push ourselves up the standings—get some wins, help the team make a push for the playoffs" Opare said. "We definitely have a group that can make a run. Now it's about taking care of business and doing our jobs individually and collectively to help us reach our goal."