Junior Moreno proud of compatriot Josef Martinez's historic season

Junior Moreno - DC United - warm-ups

WASHINGTON -- For long-time MLS observers, Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez’srecord-breaking campaign is among the best individual seasons in league history, after breaking the single-season scoring record with two months to spare.

For D.C. United midfielder Junior Moreno and his fellow Venezuelan footballers, it’s also a source of patriotic joy.

“Honestly, there’s a lot of pride in it,” Moreno told MLSsoccer.com through an interpreter. “There’s a lot of pride in what he’s done so far in the league, but also the record … and the opportunity that he’s given to other Venezuelan players.”

Moreno is among a handful of Vinotinto compatriots who have entered MLS this season after Martinez, Jefferson Savarino and Yangel Herrera were among those to come in 2017.

While Moreno is grateful for stars like Martinez lifting Venezuela’s soccer profile, he’s also a crucial cog in the quest to limit Atlanta’s attack Sunday night (7:30 pm ET | FS1 - Full TV & streaming info) in a game D.C. vitally need for their playoff hopes after consecutive losses.

Moreno won’t spend Sunday directly marking Martinez. But his role as a midfield disruptor will be crucial against a side with so many quality providers of service for Martinez.

“No forward just scores this many goals because he’s that special,” D.C. coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. “There [are] providers around him and the style of play that allows him to put up high numbers consistently when it comes to goals. He’s got a perfect team around him to get the opportunities. But also, when it comes to converting chances, he’s a killer.”

After working back from a hamstring injury, Moreno has played every minute of D.C.’s last four matches, helping the Black-and-Red tighten an at-times leaky defense to allow only four goals.

“He’s formed a very good partnership with Russell [Canouse] and he’s helped us move from giving away more chances,” Olsen said. “With the ball, he’s a connector. We still want more out of him with his range of passing, and pushing him to where he needs to be on the offensive side. But for the most part, he’s done very well.”

Moreno is well aware Sunday’s challenge may be on a different level, having been on the field for Atlanta’s 3-1 dissection of United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium back in March.

Martinez scored once in that one, then followed that with a hat trick in another 3-1 Atlanta home win in July while Moreno was on the bench.

“We know what they’re going to do and always position themselves to counterattack,” Moreno said. “Their front four are very dangerous, so we have to No. 1, be careful of the counterattack and position ourselves well enough to be prepared for that. But also, [we have] to create our own space. Because there are plenty of opportunities for us to take advantage of their weaknesses.”