DCU_2021-UnforgettableMoments-Web

D.C. United’s 2021 campaign came to an end on November 7 after narrowly missing out on playoff qualification on Decision Day. Despite the disappointment of not clinching the playoffs, the first season of the Hernán Losada era gave fans plenty of memorable moments, especially in front of home supporters at Audi Field.

The Black-and-Red became one of the biggest surprises of the season; adopting the offensive and high-pressing philosophy of Losada, the team made considerable strides following a lackluster 2020 season.

Let’s take a look back at some of the season’s highlights:

Ola Kamara’s Golden Year

D.C. United’s forward was clinical in front of goal in 2021 and became a linchpin for the Black-and-Red offense after scoring 19 goals and recording five assists in 28 appearances (22 starts). Kamara’s 19 goals tied him with New York City’s Valentín Castellanos for most goals in the 2021 MLS Regular Season. The Norwegian accomplished the feat despite registering 941 minutes less than Castellanos and an impressive 0.94 goals per 90 minutes. The forward had some memorable performances in 2021 after scoring a hat-trick against Chicago Fire FC and three braces against Inter Miami CF, the Columbus Crew SC, and Toronto FC. The 32-year-old had a career season in goal production, with his previous best season coming in 2017 with Columbus Crew SC when he scored 18 goals and recorded three assists in 34 games. On the back of his performance in 2021, Kamara solidified himself in the Black-and-Red history books after becoming the 10th highest goal scorer to ever don the jersey with 26 career goals, overtaking Wayne Rooney (25), Alecko Eskandarian (25), and Luciano Acosta (25).

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The Emergence of Kevin Paredes

Homegrown Kevin Paredes was a standout for D.C. United in a breakout season since joining the team in January 2020. The 18-year-old flourished in his second season with the Black-and-Red, making 24 appearances (19 starts) and logging 1,553 minutes. In that time, Paredes scored three goals and recorded an assist on the way to becoming one of Major League Soccer’s most exciting young talents. Paredes' first goal for the Black-and-Red came on July 3, 2021 when he scored the first of seven goals with a well-hit strike at the back post in D.C. United’s record-breaking 7-1 win against Toronto FC at Audi Field. Paredes proved his finishing ability but also emerged as a playmaker who created scoring opportunities for his teammates. The nimble attacking wingback made a nuisance of himself for opposing defenders and his quick feet earned the Black-and-Red two penalties in 2021. Paredes' passing ability was also on display when he recorded his first assist of the year after sprinting down the left flank and whipping in a pinpoint cross to Ramón Ábila for a stoppage time goal against the New England Revolution on Oct. 20. To solidify Paredes’ spot as one of the leading young players in the league, the wingback was named at number 11 in the 22 players Under 22 list published by MLS in October.

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Andy Najar’s D.C. United Comeback

As a beloved former player, Andy Najar made his triumphant return to the District for his second spell with his hometown club when he signed on April 16, 2021. Najar initially signed with D.C. United in 2010, and after taking the league by storm, he signed with Belgian powerhouse RSC Anderlecht in January 2013. In his eight years away from the Black-and-Red, Najar spent six seasons with Anderlecht competing in elite European competitions. In 2020, after a turbulent run of injuries in Europe, Najar returned to MLS when he signed for LAFC. The Honduran international was unable to rediscover his form in LA and after making only eight appearances that season, Najar was released from his contract. Despite the disappointment in his first season back in MLS, it set up an unlikely return to his boyhood club where his soccer dream began eight years prior. After careful monitoring of his fitness, Najar emerged as one of the most exciting center backs in the league under Losada’s high-energy pressing system. He was defined for his passing and dribbling ability when he first emerged in 2010 and was able to excel in both of those categories despite being deployed deeper on the field. His mazing runs out of the back, skill on the ball, and intuitive passing made him one of the most dangerous center backs in the league and fans were reminded about what made the player so special when he initially joined the club in 2010. After scoring once and recording three assists in 26 appearances in 2021, Najar has flourished since returning home and fans can look forward to Najar continuing to make his stamp on the District in 2022.

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Steven Birnbaum’s Return to the Backline

D.C. United’s captain and stalwart centerback Steven Birnbaum was sidelined for the first 12 matches of the season after undergoing two ankle surgeries. The defender confessed that he worried about returning to soccer after the complications arising from the ankle issue he sustained in 2020. After months of rehabilitation and hard work, the 30-year-old made his long anticipated return to the lineup on July 17 against the Philadelphia Union. Following his return, Birnbaum became one of the first names on the team sheet for Losada after playing in 20 of the Black-and-Red’s final 21 matches. The aerially gifted center back was a leader in the backline but also showcased his presence on the attacking side as well after contributing two goals and an assist; the most goals he scored in a season since 2018. The captain also achieved an impressive milestone after reaching 200 total MLS appearances since joining the club in 2014. Birnbaum’s 200th appearance came on October 27 at Audi Field in the team’s 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls to mark a triumphant feat of resilience to overcome a difficult injury.

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Bill Hamid Clean Sheet Record

Bill Hamid had another exemplary season in goal for the Black-and-Red in his 12th year in the District, recording eight clean sheets and making 60 saves in 21 appearances. The eight clean sheets saw Hamid surpass longtime coach and D.C. United Director of Goalkeeping Zach Thornton on the MLS all-time regular season shutout list (78). He tied level with Thornton on the all-time shutout list (76) in the 3-0 win against Chicago FC on Sept. 15 and went on to surpass his coach in the 0-0 draw with Nashville SC on Oct. 16. The MLS veteran continues to be a catalyst for United success and the goalkeeper’s performances in net led to nine wins for the Black-and-Red in 2021.

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