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D.C. United 2018 season review: Joseph Mora

The Costa Rican took time to learn MLS, but proved himself as a left back during the run at Audi Field

Going into the 2018 season, it was assumed that Taylor Kemp would reprise his role as D.C. United’s left back. Though the 2013 draft pick had missed the back end of the 2017 season after surgery, there had been plenty of time for recovery. However, when Kemp failed to make an appearance in preseason, the left back position became a huge question on the makeup of the squad.

A couple of options filtered in and out of the preseason without sticking, and United went into the season with Nick DeLeon and Oniel Fisher as the two starting outside backs. That tandem started against Orlando City in the opening week of the season, before Joseph Mora, a Costa Rican left back was signed from Saprissa on March 7th.

United had their eye on Mora earlier, but had to wait until Saprissa’s run in the Concacaf Champions League came to an end, sending an unknown transfer fee to Saprissa for Mora. Mora wasn’t part of the squad for the next game against Atlanta United, but was thrust into a starting spot 10 days after his transfer, against the Houston Dynamo.

Mora had a mostly solid outing in the snow flurries at the Maryland Soccerplex, excusing a couple of mistakes for the lack of time he had to learn his new team. But as March turned into April, Mora seemed to start to struggle more and more with the Black-and-Red. Mostly solid play was being undone by costly mistakes, as United tried to scrape any points they could on the road early in the season.

The low point for Mora, on the field, came in May, at Real Salt Lake. After Paul Arriola gave the visitors an early lead, Mora couldn’t contend with Corey Baird in the air, allowing the rookie to score an equalizer in the 21st minute. Mora’s night went from bad to worse a minute later, when he received a straight red card for stomping on Jefferson Savarino while trying to make a tackle.

After initially receiving a yellow card, a video review ended with Mora getting his marching orders in the 22nd minute. Had this been a goal saving attempt of a tackle, it would have been one thing. But the defender got his red for a tackle at the midfield line, with Savarino heading towards his own goal. It took just another of couple of minutes for RSL to take the lead, before United could even get Fisher on as a replacement.

It looked as if Mora’s tenure with United might have gone the same way as Jose Ortiz’s in 2017, when the fellow Costa Rican saw his loan cut short due to a lack of productivity. It really appeared that United needed to make a move to get another left back, especially after Kemp was announced as out for the season during the summer.

However, like so many of United’s fortunes, Mora’s form turned a corner once United opened up Audi Field. While Fisher grew into the right back position, so did Mora on the left hand side. No longer was there a critical mistake or two from the left back each game. Instead, Mora solidified his defensive game, while adding to the attack.

Mora ended the season with two assists. One game on Darren Mattocks’ late equalizer against Los Angeles FC in May. The other came on Mattocks’ winner against Minnesota United in September. But what doesn’t show up in the boxscore is how much Mora contributed on the attacking end, even if it didn’t directly end up with his name on the scoresheet.

United did end up bringing in another left back, ahead of the crazy schedule the team had to end the season. Vytas was brought in via a trade with Portland, and given his record in the Pacific Northwest, should have challenged Mora for minutes. Vytas got injured shortly after his move, appearing on the bench just six times before his season was over.

At the same time though, Mora’s form would have made it tough for Vytas to play anyway. Mora came off as a sub in the dramatic win over Orlando in August. After that, he earned and played ever last minute of the rest of United’s season, 1260 minutes over 14 games.

Mora’s form even finally earned the soon to be 26 year old a Costa Rican call up in November, his first for the senior team. Mora earned his first two caps coming on against Chile and Peru for fellow MLS-er Ronald Matarrita. Should he keep up his performances, than a call in for next summer’s Gold Cup is a realistic possibility.

With Vytas not having his option picked up for next year, Mora is the only left back currently on the team. With questions at right back and probably center back, Mora’s continued progression at left back will be important for the club in 2019. Reinforcements at the position will be added at some point, but with Mora rounding into a solid MLS left back, the Black-and-Red might not need to bring in a starting caliber replacement.


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