Commentary / Union

The Overlap: Playing with house money

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Well, they went and did it. I said I wanted two playoff wins, and they got them. I couldn’t be prouder of this group. To follow up a Supporters’-Shield-winning season with a run to the Conference Finals, with a trip to the Concacaf Champions’ League Semifinals on top of that, is truly special. Not to mention they did it without three important players from that previous team. At this point, there’s nothing left to prove.

Which isn’t to say the team should be satisfied with what they’ve achieved. One of the great things about getting this far is that it’s only a couple games away from winning the whole thing. They should dare to dream, because there isn’t a team left standing that the Union should fear. New England has had a great season, but the Union have played them very tight, and are playing their best defense of the season right now. Even the bright talents the Revs have will find it difficult to break through. NYC FC? The Union managed a draw in the claustrophobic confines of Yankee Stadium just a few weeks ago. If NYC get past NE, they have to come and beat down the door in Chester. Good luck to them there. RSL is a great story, and if they beat Portland to reach MLS Cup, it will be even better, but I don’t think RSL can score on the Union, and they’d have to travel to Chester, too. Portland is a pretty good team, but flawed, and their best player, Sebastian Blanco, may be done for the season after coming off injured in their last game. I’d give the Union more than a fighting chance against them.

Of course, the Union aren’t perfect either. They continue to struggle to convert chances. Against Nashville, they doubled up the Tenneseeans in Expected Goals, but Sergio Santos managed to miss every possible chance he generated, up to and including his penalty kick in the decisive shootout. As I like to point out, however, creating chances is more important than converting them, per se, as finishing tends to average out, while making chances is much more difficult to do. I have to hope that the forwards find their way back to the mean sometime soon, because the Union have done a much better job at getting looks in these last two games—against two of the top defenses in the league—than it might appear at first glance. In both games, the Union had opportunities to win in regulation. Daníel Gazdag should have had the winning brace on Sunday, but Snakebit Sergio bumped Joe Willis, the Nashville keeper, enough for Allen Chapman to whistle for a foul.

Bruce Arena’s quote about succeeding in the postseason is that it’s a time when your best players need to be your best players. That is to say, you need your top guys to step up and prove they can be difference-makers. The Union have done that. The fact that it was a center back and goalkeeper rather than an attacking DP tells you all you need to know about the way this team has been built, and the way it goes about its business. And I guarantee that—whether or not anybody is predicting they will go all the way—no one wants to play them.

Nashville takeaways

I don’t know about you, but my head is still spinning a little bit, so here are a few unordered thoughts to finish up:

Andre Blake deserves this moment. I was present at the U.S. Open Cup Final where Blake was substituted for the penalty shootout. It was not a particularly surprising choice by Jim Curtin, and I didn’t bat an eye. To see Blake own a shootout so decisively is richly deserved for his growth and ability. Like against Red Bull, Blake’s shadow forced the final two Nashville penalty takers, Alex Muyl and Walker Zimmerman, to take shots they weren’t comfortable with, because they knew they had to be perfect. They couldn’t do it.

The Sergio Santos Experience. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a striker so consistently able to create danger through his movement, and yet so unable to make it count. The breakaway chance that he put wide was the most glaring, but Santos put on a show of misses, and it was truly shocking that he was allowed to take a penalty. This is the issue with Santos. He is tantalizing, but unless he can be more consistent, both in his finishing and his ability to stay healthy, you have to wonder if it’s worth the roster spot.

I wondered if that was Jamiro Monteiro’s last game when he was substituted. In the end, the Union pulled out the victory, so we’ll see Monteiro play again, but I found it interesting that Curtin took him off. It was the right move, and contrast that with Gazdag playing 120-plus; Gazdag is a player for the Union’s future, while Monteiro clearly is not.

Ice in his veins. Speaking of the future, I was nervous when Jack McGlynn stepped up to take a penalty, but only because penalties are nerve-wracking. I knew that the moment wasn’t too big for him. That said, I did not predict the utter callousness with which he stutter-stepped his way past Joe Willis. Take a bow, young man, take a bow! Dear me, I was not that confident at 18.


  1. Jack McGlynn will be in Europe before 21 and possibly for a bigger transfer than Aaronson or McKenzie. That combination of poise, talent, and work ethic at 18 is rare. He’s going to get paid and he’ll be on the USMNT sooner rather than later.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Not unless he increases his foot speed and coverage of ground. He is only 18 so such increases are possible. Look at the differences in the Aaronson brothers as regards those two characteristics of play.

  2. Don’t understand this satisfied mentality at all. Sure it’s a positive to advance further than we have in this cup tournament. Two wonderful playoff wins at home will only help confidence. But for me, anything less than a cup final appearance is just another good season without any bragging rights.

    • So they need to win one more game? Any single game could go either way, especially when it’s guaranteed to be against a high quality opponent. So it seems arbitrary to me to say that we should be dissatisfied with what they have done so far, but are allowed to be happy if they win one more time.

    • McMohansky, it is pretty simple. If the team overachieved the expectations that you had, you should be happy. Your hope is that they win every game every season, but the expectation is a little lower. If you expect your team to win every game every season, or win every cup, you must be miserable.

      This team has done better than predicted in the CCL, the regular season, and in the playoffs. Be Happy.

      • No one is talking about happiness.

        Semi final appearances in mls playoffs are nothing to hang a hat on and if they don’t get to the final the year is good not great, not special.

      • Predictions are absolutely worthless and should never be used as a gauge for success.

  3. You don’t have your two wins yet, you have a win and a draw. As Dre said in the postgame interview, there’s still unfinished business.

  4. Both games were at home…they should have won them both. Winning at NE would be very difficult.
    I agree this was a very successful year. In truth, it was a transition year with the departures of Aaronson and McKenzie, and the likely continued changes to come after this season (possibly departures of any of Monteiro, Santos, Kacpar, and subs like Fontana, Real, Ilsinho).
    A lot of salary could be leaving; it would be nice if they could use it for a striker who is both fast and a good finisher.

  5. Agree entirely with your point that chance creation is even more important than finishing. If you create enough chances, eventually one or more will go in. If you create very few chances, then you have to be clinical, and all the sudden finishing matters a ton. Union have gotten by playing Moneyball at the striker position, and maybe they still can. But they gotta spend the money on a creator. Hoping Gazdag proves to be money well spent in that regard. (And he might…)

  6. In Tanner We Trust says:

    Love Gazdag’s future but not understanding the continued Monteiro slander as if he’s expected to produce the same way at the 10. He’s an 8 playing out of position, coming off an absence where the last competitive game he played had major stakes with a completely different set of teammates. I swear some fans are waiting for a loss just so they can show him the door. He’s still the best outfield player the club has ever seen.
    As far as the debate above, expectations change and standards are set. We were worried about if they could get consistent results without Aaronson, McKenzie, Gaddis but they’ve proven that they can. So now there’s no excuse. We’ve seen enough this year to suggest that they SHOULD win against NYC at home, therefore they must. Same thing against RSL if they advance. However, based on history, a win at Portland would be extremely difficult.
    We’ve gone the distance in our 2 games so there will definitely be tired legs, but NYC will be without several players, they just had a PK shootout themselves, and they’ll be playing 3 intense games in 3 different locations. No excuses, get the job done. 1 win at a time.

    • I think one can make an argument that Montiero might be the highest quality player the Union has ever had, but there’s something about his play at times that bothers me — whether it’s needlessly dribbling into a tight space when he should have been looking for the pass or getting too cute with a flick that leads to a turnover or trying to do too much with a freekick. Perhaps I hold his DP status against him… That may be an unfair assessment. I don’t know. Still like him and would be thrilled if he comes up big on Sunday.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        Oh I agree he has annoying habits. I’ll try to counter your good points. Maybe he feels pressure to have a big impact or carry the team as a lone DP. I remember someone pointed out that we’re wasting Gazdag’s full ability by not having a DP striker, and I think it’s similar with Monteiro. There’s a lot of burden being a central midfielder alone in the DP department.
        I think it’s also worth noting that while he’s the richest on the team, it’s not an absurd amount. If you told every team in MLS they could have Monteiro and his contract in exchange for one of their DPs and that player’s contract, I think just about every team would want that trade.
        I think the fact that our lower salary players are reaching that level quality despite not being DPs should be glass half full, not a slight toward Miro. But like I said I understand your mindset.

      • Yeah. There’s an element to his game that does feel like he’s trying too hard. Whether it’s rolling the ball underfoot, looking to beat a guy one on one or trying to score a galazo on every set piece. Also agree that none of these things would annoy me if we had a striker banging in chances every so often.

    • Agree this has been clear for more than 2 years. Monteiro is the best outfield player to ever wear a Union jersey. Always plays both ways. Martinez is right behind him.

      • +1. Miro is pure quality and fight in a pint-sized package. The best player to wear our crest? I would say, “yes”.

  7. I am NOT looking past NYCFC – they are great and it will be a dogfight!
    ….That said, if the U win Sunday and RSL manages to beat POR, looks to me like we have a Cup final in Chester. (based on supporters shield ranking)

    • And if the Union had been able to win while up a man against NYCFC or hadn’t given up that last second goal in Montreal, it wouldn’t matter who won on Saturday.

  8. For me, get rid of Kasper.. He continues to disappoint me game after game. Start Burke or Santos instead. Kasper seems to miss the net more times then he hits it. OK, let the flaming begin, but doesn’t anyone else see this?

    • Burke hasn’t played more than about 30 minutes in quite awhile so that’s not really an option. The only reason Santos has played 60 recently is because of the playoff games going to extra time. And again, before that he hadn’t played in a couple of months.
      So while you may be right theoretically, right now I don’t think it is practical.

  9. el Pachyderm says:

    “Mae Mae Make your future, Danny”
    I’m all in with whatever the outcome at this point is.
    I hope they play well —and win or lose knowing they played their best footy on that day. I can be fine with any result so long as it ends with good play.
    The NYRB game was a fit. Brutal affair.
    The Nashville game showed some moments of clean, clear, coherent and rhythmic play.
    My hope/expectation is this week against NYCFC they elevate their game another notch.
    Then maybe they get to do it again on December 11th.
    For that to happen, and in order to win a championship- as is so often the case- we will all likely agree at some point in January they just kept getting better and better over the run.

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