Analysis / Union

On chemistry

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Under normal circumstances, we accept players coming back from an off-season a little rusty. Maybe they ate a bit too much while away from the scrutiny of team nutritionists. Maybe they weren’t training quite as hard as they would have or should have. But we accept it. Players are humans just like us, and who can’t relate to not wanting to go for a run and having some ice cream instead.

And what have the last four months been but an off-season? A surreal, at times heartbreaking off-season, but an off-season none the less. And despite the win on Thursday, there was obvious rust in the Union lineup against NYC FC. Passes failing to anticipate the run a player was about to make. Shots that should have been first-touch goals fumbled and squandered. And a discontinuity of play that showed these guys simply hadn’t been around each other much in the past few months.

But again, we can accept that. It makes sense. The same rust has been visible in every game of the MLS is Back Tournament. So this isn’t a Union problem, it’s simply the nature of the reality we are living in at the moment. In fact, rather than a problem that rust could be an asset for the Union going forward.

See the only cure for rust is time. Time back in training cleans up those touches. Normally this time of year Kacper Przybyłko would have taken that shot first touch, but because of the pandemic-induced off-season he bobbled it squandering the chance. But we won’t see that fumble again, as more time and more training brings the instinct and the finesse back to his feet. Of course the same is true for every team, no doubt various NYC FC players wish they hadn’t been so rusty on the numerous headers in front of goal the team failed to put away on Thursday.

The difference for the Union comes into play in the second type of rust we talked about- the wayward passes. Anyone who’s played soccer for any amount of time will tell you that learning your teammates is essential to learning how to play with them. If you know a player is fast or slow, you know how much you need to lead them by. If you know a player is bad in a given situation you know to support them, and if you know a player is good in a situation you know how to capitalize on that strength.

Union players should know those things about one another, in fact of all their Group A opponents they should know it the best. Because based on some extremely sloppy math, the Union have simply played together longer than the other teams. Which means Jamiro Monteiro knows where Alejandro Bedoya will be after he passes the ball. Jack Elliott knows Mark McKenzie is behind him when he steps to an attacking player. Andre Blake knows just how far ahead of Kai Wagner he needs to put the ball when the Union are on a counter-attack.

There is precedence for this, of course. Take a look at almost any mid-season signing, for almost any team in MLS, and you’ll see the effect. Players coming in without knowing their teammates, without understanding how they play and how their play effects others, it prevents even blockbuster summer transfer window signings from making a significant dent on their new team’s prospects. And it’s because they lack experience playing together.

That experience only comes with time spent playing together, and the Union have more of that than any team they’re facing. So once they manage to shake off the individual rust, there’s reason to expect that experience will show itself in a Union team playing more cohesively, and therefore more effectively, than many other teams.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    One thing I noticed last week was that 10 of the 11 starters were with the team last year so that chemistry should be there. Of course, just because you know where to put the pass to a specific teammate doesn’t mean you’ll be able to when you are rusty.

  2. Gruncle Bob says:

    Great piece. It’s a secondary “benefit” of the team’s tight purse strings. They don’t have to integrate many new guys into the line-up each year because they just don’t acquire many.

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