Image: Zoltan Stieber v Philadelphia 4-28

Zoltán Stieber remaining impactful in United midfield

After years of success in Germany and England, Zoltán Stieber transitioned to Major League Soccer when he joined D.C. United during the 2017 summer transfer window. Since his arrival, the Hungarian midfielder has played a key role in generating attacking chances for the Black-and-Red and has remained an important component to the team's offensive build-up play.

The midfielder established himself as a playmaker in 2. Bundesliga where he tallied 26 goals and 38 assists in 129 appearances over six seasons with five clubs (TuS Koblenz, Alemannia Aachen, SpVgg Greuther Fürth, 1.FC Nuremberg and 1.FC Kaiserslautern). Stieber also scored six goals and recorded six assists in 50 appearances in 1. Bundesliga over four seasons with three clubs (1.FSV Mainz 05, SpVgg Greuther Fürth and Hamburger SV). 

“The experiences in Germany and England helped me a lot in terms of developing my style of play," Stieber said. "I learned a lot in my youth years in England, then I wanted to reach the next level of my career when I moved to Germany in my early twenties. I was getting regular first team minutes in Germany and played there for almost 10 years, so that was obviously a big part of my development. The German league is very tactical in both the first and second tiers, so I learned a lot of tactics and the physicality of the league also had an influence on my game.”

In the match against the Philadelphia Union on April 28, Stieber showcased his ability to score goals and create opportunities for his teammates—two skillsets he refined while playing overseas. In the seventh minute, Luciano Acosta found Stieber streaking down the right flank and the 29-year-old confidently slotted the ball past an outstretched Andre Blake for his first goal of 2018.

In the second half, the Hungarian flaunted his technical ability again when he whipped a perfectly weighted cross into the path of Darren Mattocks’ run for the Jamaican to level the game at 2-2. 

It was the second time in Stieber’s young MLS career that he scored and recorded an assist in a match. The first came in 2017 when he tallied his first MLS goal and assist against the New York Red Bulls in only his fifth game for United.

Despite just one assist in his first MLS season, Stieber had 16 chances created and led the team with 2.74 chances created per 90 minutes (for players who played a minimum of 500 minutes). 

“I like to give assists and score goals," said Stieber. "I haven’t shown that much here yet, but that’s always my main goal. I also love to cross the ball—if the strikers make a good run and I provide them a good cross then it’s obviously easier for them to score a goal. I enjoy trying to set my teammates up to score.” 

Following a promising start to his MLS career in which Stieber tallied one goal, one assist, and 13 shots in six games started, the Hungarian entered the 2018 season focused on remaining an impactful piece in the Black-and-Red midfield. While the 2017 season presented Stieber with unique challenges due to timing, offseason gave the 29-year-old a chance to reset and fully prepare for what he hopes will be a productive 2018 campaign. 

“Last year, I joined D.C. United during the German offseason. I played a three-month MLS season here, then there was a break again, so it was a unique situation for me that I haven't experienced before in my career. But our head of sports science and fitness, Jonny [Northeast] gave us a very good offseason training plan that I completed with my fitness coach in Hungary so that helped.”

So far in 2018, the 5-foot-9-inch midfielder has created six chances and leads the team in chances created per 90 minutes with 1.85. With his first goal and assist of 2018 in the books, Stieber has his mind set on continuing his upward trajectory in MLS as he strives to become a leading playmaker for the Black-and-Red. 

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