IMAGE: Moreno

2018 Review: Moreno fortifies defense, adds depth

Junior Moreno joined D.C. United during the 2017-2018 offseason following a transfer from Zulia FC, a top-flight club in Moreno’s native Venezuela. The defensive midfielder had played for Zulia FC since 2015 after beginning his professional career in 2012 with Asociacion Civil Deportivo Lara, and was added to the Black-and-Red's roster with one thing in mind: bolstering the defense. 

The addition of defensive midfielder Russell Canouse in the 2017 summer transfer window was an initial step in the right direction for strengthening United's back line, but with the preseason injury to Canouse, the departure of former defensive mid Marcelo Sarvas, and the defensive struggles United faced in 2017, there was a need for more depth ahead of 2018. Enter Moreno, who added a physical presence to D.C.'s lineup, could help connect the game in the midfield, and could improve United's transition game on both sides of the ball. 

Moreno appeared in 20 matches and started 17 during his first Major League Soccer campaign, tallying two assists along the way. In the beginning of the year, there was some shuffling in the center of the pitch due to various injuries, but in the second half of the season, Moreno developed strong chemistry with Canouse, most often partnering with the American in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The pairing of the two solid defensive midfielders allowed Moreno to play a more holding role and work in synch with the back line, and gave Canouse more freedom to roam box-to-box and involve himself in the attack thanks to the trust that Moreno was helping hold the back four. The Venezuelan used his tactical knowledge to win battles in the midfield and his vision to help push the offense up field, finishing the season with an 85% pass completion rate. Moreno's presence in the center of the field contributed to a stronger defensive front, while also helping increase the team's offensive production.

Moreno's strong first MLS season also earned him more play time with the Venezuelan National Team. In 2017, Moreno made his debut with the Venezuelans in a friendly against the United States at Rio Tinto Stadium, and assisted on an early goal, helping lead his team to a 1-1 draw. Moreno tallied five caps in 2017, including three appearances in the World Cup qualifiers. In 2018, he continued to earn national team recognition, receiving call-ups for three international friendlies.

With turmoil back in Venezuela, Moreno noted that leaving his home in such a tumultuous time was difficult, but that he is grateful for the opportunities afforded to him in the United States and with D.C. United. Now, with his first season in the District under his belt, the 25-year-old will strive to continue to make the most of his opportunity next year as the Black-and-Red compete in their first full season at Audi Field with an extremely promising defensive core ready to defend their fortress.