Coming in with low expectations and a new coach for the first time since November 2010, D.C. United's incredible start with Hernán Losada at the helm has checked all the boxes near the midpoint of the 2021 MLS season.
Three points off second place in the Eastern Conference and a game above .500, Losada has reinvigorated the squad, which has dealt with plenty of adversity due to a bevy of early season injures and scattered absences, with a fresh slate of tactics and ideas. Losada even joked about lacing up the cleats himself after a couple red cards in the Black and Red's scoreless draw at Cincinnati.
Losada's three-in-the-back formation has helped clean up an aging defense; his youth development in the midfield has provided optimism with a look to the future; his player management up front has provided vital goals from their marksman up top.
All in all, it's been an incredible turnaround from the D.C. United teams consistently in the cellar of the MLS standings since Wayne Rooney's departure in August 2019. With zero selections from D.C. United for this year's All-Star Game, Losada candidly expressed why he thought it was painful not to see any of his players selected.
"Maybe it’s due to the fact D.C. wasn’t good enough the last couple years and lost a little bit of respect," Losada told media. "Little by little, with this big heart and fighting spirit, we are coming back.”
Now riding high on a five-game unbeaten streak, through 18 matches in this 34-match season, it's time to reflect on the best superlatives ahead of the second-half stretch.
Best Game - Sensational Seven!
D.C. United's 7-1 drubbing of Toronto FC on July 3 was the most goals scored in a single match in the club's illustrious 26-year history, which boasts four MLS Cups to its name. It was as masterful of an attacking display as it was ruthless, with United burying seven of their nine shots on target while controlling 53% of the possession battle.
Goals from Kevin Paredes and Nigel Robertha in the opening 10 minutes blew the doors off this one before a Toronto own goal moved proceedings from bad to worse for the Canadian club. A Paul Arriola goal in the 71st minute made it 4-1, then a Toronto red card led to three United goals to put an exclamation point on the result.
Best Goal - Yordy Reyna's GOALAZO!
After dominating Columbus in the first half, D.C. United found themselves on their heels after conceding twice and were in danger of giving up a commanding lead. Reyna drove directly at the back-tracking defense on a counter attack, opened up on his left and sent a beautifully crafted curler past the Crew goalkeeper.
Reyna's effort even got new minority owner Mark Ingram II excited enough to tweet a congratulatory "GOALAAAAZZZZO!" You know when you get the owner hyped, it's a good one.
Breakout Star - Moses Nyeman
A true box-to-box midfielder in every sense, 17-year-old Moses Nyeman's contributions show the faith Losada has in the youth movement in the nation's capital. As D.C. United's 13th homegrown signing in October 2019, Nyeman became the second-youngest player to sign a contract with the club at age 15.
Along with fellow homegrown products like Paredes and Maryland alum Donovan Pines, Nyeman has thrived under Losada.
Best Player - Julian Gressel
It's been no secret how in-form Ola Kamara has been up top, scoring nine in his last eight and already up to double digits in second for the league's golden boot, having bagged 10 goals through 12 appearances. But Kamara only needs that one chance to score, and the first stretch of the season Kamara wasn't exactly hitting the stride reminiscent of his Crew days. For Losada's full plans to work as well as they have so far this season, it's been the consistency from his right wing back Julian Gressel that deserves the plaudits.
Gressel leads the club in appearances (18), starts (16) and assists (4). His marauding mobility down the right flank allows Losada to fit three in the back, but it's been the creativity in the final third that's made a difference. Seen with the lovely cross to Andy Najar from a first-half set piece last time out, Gressel's crossing ability allows Kamara and company to feast. A stabilizing figure for the Black and Red, Gressel is well on his way to replicate his career-best season in 2019 with Atlanta when he scored six and assisted another 12.