During Moses Nyeman’s most recent outing, a 27-minute substitute appearance in D.C. United’s 1-0 win against Inter Miami on Saturday, center back Donovan Pines kept distributing the ball Nyeman’s direction. Pines noticed his confidence, his composure, and kept feeding him opportunities.
“He just takes the space like he’s a veteran player,” Pines said.
Of course, Nyeman is far from being a veteran player, even if he increasingly plays like one. The 17-year-old from Riverdale Park, Maryland, has featured in 19 games across the past two seasons for D.C. United, and he’s already started five matches in 2021 as the team navigates the myriad injuries beleaguering the squad. He could factor in again when United faces Montreal Impact on Wednesday.
In each of his appearances, Nyeman’s teammates notice his improvement, the subtle changes that signify the game is slowing down for the midfielder. For coach Hernan Losada’s system to work, he needs Nyeman to play beyond his years. So far, the teenager is passing each test.
“It’s incredible to see him coming of age in a way that, in the past two seasons, he’s grown so much, and immensely,” Pines said. “And he’s took up an important role as a center midfielder. That’s a lot of responsibility. So, he took it upon himself at the start of the season to now to learn the game, understand the game, and play at a high level.”
Playing in a formation utilizing three center backs and a pair of wing backs, Nyeman acts as the go-between the defense and forwards. When D.C. is in possession, the young central midfielder controls much of the flow going forward. He also carries an important role as a buffer in front of United’s last line.
That balance is the largest learning curve for Nyeman, who said he’s worked most on improving his field awareness.
“Sometimes I’m not very good at it, but I think I’ve made a step forward,” Nyeman said. “As a midfielder, it’s when you don’t know what’s going on around you — when to take one or two touches, and when to turn — that’s when things get pretty chaotic. So, yeah, it comes with experience.”
Losada said he often has individual talks with Nyeman to go over his positioning, and he’s pleased by how quickly Nyeman picks up on directions and applies them to his game. One of the talking points is for Nyeman to become more of a two-way threat — proving steady in defense while also supplying attacking support.
Nyeman feels his defending is already solid. He’s made seven tackles, five interceptions and has won 43.3% of his duels. He’s working on enhancing his play going forward, though. While his distribution is sound — completing 79.7% of his passes with one assist this season — he’s only attempted three shots, none of which were on target.
“Just being more versatile, being a midfielder that can do both at a very high level,” Nyeman said. “He thinks I’m capable of it, and I do myself as well. … Myself, I can say that I can improve a little bit defensively. But just getting into the attack, being more offensive, maybe more impactful.”
Nyeman is one of several young players receiving minutes for D.C. United, with 18-year-olds Griffin Yow and Kevin Paredes also featuring. The trio — all of whom are products of D.C. United’s Academy — gives Losada confidence for the pipeline of talent at his disposal.
Nyeman was also included in the U.S. national team’s preliminary Gold Cup squad, along with Pines, Paredes and goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Nyeman called the opportunity “something special to me,” especially sharing that with his teammates.
He isn’t likely to make the official squad this year, especially as his U.S. passport is still being processed — Nyeman is also eligible to represent Liberia. But as Nyeman proves himself as a player beyond his years at the club level, he’s bound to land on the international radar, too.