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D.C. United 2018 season review: Zoltan Stieber

The Hungarian had a good 2018 season going before being relegated to the bench late in the season

MLS: New England Revolution at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When Yamil Asad was acquired by D.C. United prior to the 2018 season, it seemed that there was a logjam in the Black-and-Red’s midfield. Asad, coming off a wonderful inaugural season with Atlanta United, was joining the ranks of Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola, and Zoltan Stieber, all high paid attack minded pieces for Head Coach Ben Olsen. Once the season commenced, Stieber, a Hungarian winger, found himself starting most times than not.

Stieber, who joined from German side 1. FC Kaiserslautern in August 2017, had a slow start to the season in terms of output, but found his stride as United gasped through the rough road heavy stretch of their schedule. After posting nary a goal or an assist in the first six games of the season, Stieber scored and assisted Darren Mattocks in the eventual 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Union on April 28th. Stieber added an assist and a goal in the next two games, as Olsen experimented with starting Asad, Acosta, Arriola, and Stieber all in the same midfield.

That provided the beleaguered United with plenty of attacking prowess on the road, but at the same time, exposing D.C. defensively. Stieber continued to be in the good graces of Olsen though, and repaid his boss with a goal or an assist in a five game stretch in June and July.

That streak started in the first half of the 4-4 draw against Toronto FC, when Stieber delivered a cross on a counter attack for Arriola to finish with a diving header. Stieber’s free kick in the next game against the New England Revolution smashed off the face of Asad for another assist. Stieber then scored immediately after the Black-and-Red fell behind by two goals on the road against the LA Galaxy, as United fought back to earn a 2-2 draw.

Stieber turned back to provider with two helpers in the Audi Field opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps, and then scored the opener a week later against Atlanta, in the eventual 3-1 loss in Georgia.

That was all amidst a stretch of 14 games in a row in which Stieber started for United. The winger had a technical ability to his game that wasn’t present amongst many of his teammates, and his left foot could deliver a ball on a platter, from open play or set pieces.

The starting streak for Stieber would come in the August win over the Portland Timbers, a game in which Zoltan came off the bench and played 21 minutes. Stieber would then score the next game after coming off the bench again, a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution, as the Black-and-Red won their third game in a week.

From there, Stieber would not add to his goal or assist total for the rest of the campaign. Two things happened that cut down on his minutes in a major way, which directly affected his numbers. First, Olsen shifted from a 4-1-4-1 formation to a 4-2-3-1 look. That didn’t change the number of midfielders, but dropped one player further back. A healthy Russell Canouse and Junior Moreno shielded the backline, making one less spot available for the attacking side.

At the same time, Olsen began to feature Ulises Segura more in a flanking position. The Costa Rican is more physical, more industrious than Stieber, while lacking the same technical ability. However, Olsen seemed to prefer Segura’s strengths over Stieber’s, even when Arriola had to drop back to provide minutes at the right back position.

After starting 17 of the first 20 games of the season, Stieber, who turned 30 in October, only started 4 of the final 14 games. In those 14 games, Zoltan racked up just 473 minutes. He missed some time while away on international duty in September, but was an unused substitute three times late in the season, as United stormed up the standings to earn a playoff spot.

All told, Stieber contributed 5 goals and 7 assists in 27 games, 21 of which were starts. Those numbers are good enough for a player who could essentially be the fifth contributor on a team, but most of that damage was done before the arrival of Wayne Rooney, and emergence of Acosta.

And now it appears that Stieber’s future with the team is in peril. United seem to be on the verge of signing Lucas ‘Titi’ Rodriguez, a winger from Argentina. The Black-and-Red haven’t closed on a deal yet for Asad, but it seems that the team will be able to bring both in for the 2019 season. Even with Arriola presumably dropping back to a more permanent role at right back, there’s no way United can afford to keep every winger on the team.

And so despite his solid 2018 showing, Stieber might be on the outs for the Black-and-Red. But as always, we ask the question of you all:


Do you want Zoltan Stieber back for the 2019 season?

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