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.
After two road games in tough environments against Orlando City and Atlanta United, the Black-and-Red face another challenge away from home this weekend against Columbus Crew SC.
With several United players on duty with their respective national teams during the upcoming FIFA international window, the Black-and-Red will have to rely on their depth as they head into Ohio.
In total, five players will be on international duty for United, including Costa Rican midfielder Ulises Segura and Jamaican defender Oniel Fisher. Each has been a key contributor for United on both sides of the ball, and in their absence the club’s depth will be put to the test.
The acquisition of defender Joseph Mora from Costa Rican club Saprissa paid early dividends for United when he impressed in his first start for the Black-and-Red. Mora controlled his side of the pitch even when facing a dangerous forward in Houston’s Alberth Elis.
Though Elis scored in the first half, he did not find the back of the net again thanks to a combined effort from the defense and goalkeeper David Ousted, who tipped away his fair share of shots.
Mora will most likely see the field again in Columbus and will face another dangerous forward in the Crew’s Gyasi Zardes. While Zardes has been on a bit of a hot streak, scoring three goals in the Crew's first three matches of the season, Mora's physical play against the Dynamo showed the defender enters MLS physically fit and ready to compete with the league's top talents.
Eighteen-year-old midfielder Chris Durkin also impressed last weekend when he came on for Júnior Moreno in the second half. As a defensive midfielder, Durkin helped control the center of the pitch and move the ball forward, using his vision and passing ability to set up teammates.
Durkin sent several impressive long balls forward, including a perfectly-placed ball for a streaking Yamil Asad that eventually resulted in a corner kick.
The youngster’s ability to step in during a tight situation spoke volumes about his growing maturity as a player, and he may be relied on once again in Columbus come Saturday.
For their part, the Crew will be short handed as well, with midfielder Wil Trapp and goalkeeper Zack Steffen both earning call-ups to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Despite their losses, Zardes will still be in the lineup and tasked with spurring the Crew's attack—the veteran forward has rediscovered his scoring touch since his trade to Columbus, and will attempt to sustain his production rate this weekend.
Even with the shakeup of available players, United remain confident in their depth and each player's ability to step up when called upon. As their road trip to Audi Field continues, the Black-and-Red will focus on tapping into their depth to keep them competitive and cohesive on the road.