In the year-and-a-half, he’s been a D.C. United player since joining on January 2, 2018, Venezuelan midfielder Júnior Moreno has gone through a roller coaster of experiences, both as a player and a person.
Moreno left his home country to join a foreign club for the first time in his professional career after playing for Asociación Civil Deportivo Lara (2012-2015) and Zulia Fútbol Club (2015-2017). After battling hamstring injuries early in the 2018 MLS season and adjusting to life with his new team in a new country, Moreno went on to play in the newly-brandished Audi Field, formed part of a spectacular mid-season turnaround to make the playoffs and play a vital role in the Venezuelan national team’s Copa America appearance in Brazil this past summer.
The success he’s experiencing now didn’t come without the initial struggles of settling into a new environment off the field and the injuries preventing him from stepping on the field.
“It was hard,” Moreno said. “Having to adapt to a different league compared to that in Venezuela, learning a new language, the first few months were very difficult. When I got here, I picked up an injury, so I missed a few games. It was hard, but nothing hard work, focus, a positive mentality and taking advantage of every earned opportunity can’t fix. Things started to improve, and it made everything easier.”
MLS is a league he noticed was growing in quality, so when the opportunity to join the Black-and-Red presented itself nearly two years ago, it was one he felt he couldn’t pass up to take his career to the next level.
“The opportunity really caught my attention, coming to this league,” Moreno said. “A league that I see is growing a lot but has also already passed that stage of trying to grow. It’s not a league where you see players come to retire anymore like before, rather teams are bringing young players along with experienced players who play a big role, which helps the league to keep improving. It was a decision I made with my family and is honestly the best opportunity I’ve had so far.”
Moreno has been a staple in United’s midfield since his arrival. In the 2018 MLS regular season, the Venezuelan played 1,528 minutes in 20 matches, as well as recording two assists. This season, Moreno has seen more of the field, playing and starting in 29 matches, logging in 2,551 minutes and contributing three assists. Moreno prides himself on his ability to work both sides of the ball effectively.
Defensively, he sits in front of the center backs, filling midfield gaps opposing players would look to exploit for clearer looks on goal. Offensively, he brings a calming presence on the ball to break out of high-pressure situations, and is at the forefront of United’s attack from within its own half of the field.
Aside from statistics, Moreno’s leadership qualities prove to be invaluable for United. In his last season with Zulia F.C., he was named team captain at just 23 years old. Although he doesn’t wear the armband for United, the Venezuelan still feels he can be a leader for his team both on and off the field.
“Even though I don’t have the armband, I still feel I can help my teammates, give them advice and them doing the same for me,” Moreno said. “In doing that, the team is better off. I’ll do what I can to be helpful and provide the best advice I can.”
Those same leadership qualities, paired with a good run of form in the early stages of the 2019 MLS season, earned him a spot in the Venezuelan national team in this past summer’s Copa America held in Brazil. Before coming to D.C., Moreno already made his debut with La Vinotinto in a June 3, 2017 friendly against the U.S. men’s national team. That same year, he would feature in a few more matches, including World Cup qualifiers for Russia 2018.
Moreno played a significant role for Venezuela when playing against the likes of Peru, Argentina and host country Brazil. He started in all four of Venezuela’s matches, playing 347 of a possible 360 minutes before his team bowed out of the tournament in a 2-0 quarterfinals loss to Argentina.
Between United and Venezuela, Moreno has accomplished plenty and made many memories in the past year-and-a-half. The one thing he, and his family, believes stands out as his greatest accomplishment so far is playing for his home country at Copa America.
“To represent my country is incredibly satisfying, and my family was very proud of me taking advantage of every opportunity I’ve had to represent all of Venezuela,” Moreno said. “It was a beautiful experience being able to compete in Copa America.”
Amidst the success and glee of recent accomplishments in his career came a painful moment for Moreno as his father, Carlos Horacio Moreno, passed away earlier this year. Moreno missed two league matches to be with his family as they grieved his father’s passing. It was a loss that deeply affected Junior as he had a meaningful relationship with someone who was not only his father but his coach as well, playing under his father’s tutelage at Zulia F.C. Carlos was well-known and respected in Venezuelan soccer, having played in the Venezuelan league, coached multiple clubs to championships, as well as coaching the Venezuelan national team at Copa America in 1989 and at World Cup qualifiers for Italy 1990. The importance of what his father meant not only to him, but the Venezuelan soccer community was not lost on Moreno when he and his family received messages of condolences and support after his father’s passing.
“As a person, as a father, as a coach with everything he’s done, what he’s accomplished in Venezuela, he left behind an incredibly important legacy that fills me and my family with pride,” Moreno said. “When what happened happened, receiving a bunch of messages of support was something positive. It makes you go about things differently, be more appreciative and notice how great everything was, the good things he left behind.”
A couple months ago, Moreno shared in an Instagram post what he feels is the most heartfelt and meaningful moment he got to share with his father. On Aug. 16, 2015, which happened to be his father’s birthday, Moreno was playing for Zulia F.C. in a Venezuelan Primera División match against Tucanes de Amazonas. F.C. Zulia led the match 1-0 before Moreno scored a goal in the 64th minute to double their lead. Moreno described that moment as “the best memory I have in my career.”
“I went straight into his arms to dedicate the goal to him and hugged him,” Moreno said. “Of the goals I’ve scored in my career, that will always be the best goal I’ll ever score since we won the game, I was able to score a goal on his birthday and he’s my coach. I think very few players get to experience that. I’m very, very happy for that.”
Along with the heartfelt memory they shared together, Moreno immortalized his father by getting a tattoo on his right forearm, a small reminder of the love and admiration he has for the man he admired as a coach and a father.
“For me, he is the best example to follow,” Moreno said. “I hope to keep carrying his name with pride. The word ‘proud’ falls short of how I feel about him and who he was.”