DC United credit Junior Moreno as "huge piece of puzzle" in hot start

WASHINGTON -- Junior Moreno’s D.C. United coaches and teammates believe the Venezuelan midfielder is among the best kept secrets of their promising start to the season.

If he helps D.C. shut down Carlos Vela and LAFC’s dynamic attack on national TV on Saturday (3 pm ET | FOX in US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), he may be under wraps no longer.

“I’ve said this all year, that he’s been a guy behind the scenes who goes about his business each weekend," D.C. coach Ben Olsen said on Tuesday. "He has a great pulse in there, he calms us down, connects passes, really reads the game defensively very well. … He’s a huge piece of the puzzle right now."

Partnered with Russell Canouse as the holding midfielders in D.C.’s 4-2-3-1, Moreno has helped close the door in front of the back line for the Eastern Conference leaders, who have conceded only once through four league games.

Despite a language barrier and Canouse’s long absence early last season due to injury, their chemistry has been obvious since Canouse's return to full health last summer, says D.C. midfielder Paul Arriola.

“Russ is obviously a heavier hitter, who isn’t afraid to get into challenges and break things up,” Arriola told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday, “and Junior is definitely a tactical thinker, a guy who reads the game really well, on the ball very composed, plays it safe, and this year he’s been great offensively.”

Moreno's also found more space going forward in his second MLS season, contributing three assists to surpass his total from 20 MLS appearances in 2018. That included setting up Wayne Rooney for a tap in to complete the English superstar’s first MLS hat trick two weeks ago, perhaps one reason Rooney told broadcasters ahead of D.C.’s game in Orlando that he was the club’s unsung hero.

Moreno went on to help the Black-and-Red earn three tough road points and weather furious pressure after halftime from the Lions in Sunday’s 2-1 win at Orlando City Stadium.

“For me, it is important that the team wins, and the collective,” Moreno said Tuesday, through an interpreter. “And the individual things shine once the team is doing good. But the key thing is that the team does well overall.”

The people that matter have already noticed Moreno and Canouse’s work; they’ve both worked their way into the international picture for their respective nations since arriving in D.C., while becoming reliable parts of Olsen’s XI and respected teammates.

And Arriola knows how important both will be against an LAFC offense that leads MLS with 15 goals scored.

"At times we’re going to really need both of them to stay grounded and have sense of where Vela is, where [Diego] Rossi is, where Christian Ramirez is, where [Adama Diomande] is," Arriola said. "There’s so many different players for them."

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