Commentary / The Overlap

The Overlap: Early season feelings check

Photo: Stephen Speer

It’s only two games into the season, and the star striker signing has made just one short substitute appearance after getting caught in visa purgatory, so making broad conclusions about the Union in 2022 is probably a bad idea. My esteemed colleague Peter Andrews will be assessing the Montréal game in a more technical sense, giving the whys and wherefores of that contest, but since this column falls firmly in the “commentary” section of this venerable world-wide-website, I thought I’d spend several minutes of your lunchtime (or potty time, or when- and wherever you consume your daily dose of PSP), with an early season feelings check.

We may not know anything for sure, but that has never stopped us from having strong, loud, sometimes stupid opinions about this team. So let’s get into it. I’m going to present a series of things I want your feelings on. I’ll give my own take on how I’m feeling about said topic/player, and I want to hear your thoughts in the comments. I’ll number them to make referencing each topic easier. If this is not a trainwreck, maybe we can do it again sometime later in the season.

Oh, one thing: do not get personal. No trashing any person allowed. I expect we’ll have some things to say about some folks. But those folks deserve our respect simply because they are people and all people deserve our respect, regardless of their performances on the soccer field. Thanks.

Without further preamble,

How are we feeling about . . .

(1) Dániel Gazdag?

Not sure why I started here, but I’m confident that how DG fares this season will be a big indicator for how well the offense is functioning. I’m feeling better about Gazdag today than I was after Game 1, where he was fairly anonymous. Against Montréal, he wasn’t hugely influential, but he got the game-winning goal through good movement, a good first touch, and a good finish with his left foot. None of these things should be taken for granted. Still excited to see more Paxten Aaronson, but Gazdag is a very important player for the Union, so getting him going early is so, so good.

(2) The starting midfield?

I know, I just talked about Gazdag, but how are we feeling about the starting mids overall? I’m feeling pretty good, I guess. Like, I don’t think it’s time to swap out any of the starters. That said, it doesn’t feel like things are really ticking over yet. I know folks have thoughts about Ale Bedoya being too old, but I don’t share them, for now. Leon Flach hasn’t been quite the pressing machine we know he can be, but I’m putting a lot of that down to the team as a unit not having their cues down perfectly. That should come. José Martínez has balled out at times. He’s in great form and playing within himself. I haven’t been worried about any misbehavior, and his decision-making—i.e. choosing to dribble through traffic on the edge of his own box, or rather not doing that—has been good. I’m tempted by the idea of moving Martínez to the 8 and Flach to the 6 should Bedoya ever need a break. I give the mids a B (B+?), with lots of room to improve.

(3) The right back situation?

Well, I’m feeling a lot better now than I was after the first game. Olivier Mbaizo just feels like too much of a risk, at this point. When you consider how well Nathan Harriel played against Montréal—and he played very well—and then add in the fact that Mbaizo came on as a late-game defensive sub and still managed to almost give the win away by letting his mark get a free header for what would have been the equalizing goal, it seems like Mbaizo is going to spend some time on the bench. It’s hard to argue he doesn’t deserve it. However, I believe he can regain his spot if he works on improving his weaknesses. Harriel is young and hungry, but did I mention he is young? He’s going to go through some growing pains. He may not be ready to start every game. Mbaizo will get chances if he can be ready for them. But it’s Harriel’s spot at this point, for me.

(4) The shiny new toys?

Okay, that’s disrespectful. I shouldn’t objectify people that way, but it’s hard not to feel a little giddy at getting two starter-quality striker signings in the same offseason. I’ve been impressed with Julián Carranza so far. His workrate is terrific and, while getting two yellows against Montréal was a bad look, his determination to be active defensively is wonderful to see. Not only that, his intelligent run, deft touch off his chest, and accurate low cross for the winner was a great highlight (maybe the only actual highlight) against Club de Foot. I’m very excited to see him paired with Mikael Uhre, who looks the absolute business, if I’m being honest. The man is tall, strong, and also fast. He manufactured two different breakaways in under 30 minutes of action. Did he fail to convert both of them? Yes, yes, he did. But he hasn’t been training for weeks, nor seen game action in months. The guy is bound to be a little rusty. Good things coming (please don’t jinx it).

(5) The playing surface in Montréal’s Olympic Stadium?

This is cheating, as it isn’t really about the Union, but I needed to rant a bit. It is an embarrassment to MLS that games are played on a surface that poor. It’s one thing to allow turf fields at all; turf technology has come a long way and can be a serviceable choice when grass options aren’t viable. (I’d argue there’s actually no team in MLS that couldn’t do natural grass, but I’ll leave that aside for now.) But playing on green carpet on top of concrete is bush league. It’s rinky-dink. It’s like playing on a baseball diamond (oh wait). I’m astonished that no one was injured. It’s infrastructure issues like that that hold the league back, more than anything else. Fix it, Garber. Find a way.

Over to you

Okay, let me know where you’re all at. Keep it civil, but lemme hear it.


  1. I don’t thing Gazdag is a bad midfielder but he isn’t a playmaker. What he scored was a nice midfielder goal but we have two strikers who will need service. He will have to score a lot of nice midfielder goals to make up for the lack of service unless something changes.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      I think this is fair. Based on what he did in Hungary, he clearly has some nose for goalscoring, but in this system he needs to be a creator, too.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I do not find him occupying the same space Aaronson employed which allowed him to be successful in Jim’s system… albeit never quite getting the amount of touches I would have liked to see. Nevertheless, Brendan was quite effective at distributing and creating havoc off the ball.
      I think Daniel Gazdag is a very good player, very technical and sees the game uniquely. I am hopeful this translates after some time to acclimatize to the league along with a ful offseason.
      What I know is Paxten Aaronson will be breathing down his neck.. and this is a good thing.

  2. 1. In agreement with your point that Gazdag looked more impressive after match #2 than after match #1 where he was no more or less anonymous than anyone else in the lineup that day. I think the biggest disservice we can do to Gazdag is to compare him to Monteiro. The two players are very different and seem to have fundamentally different approaches to the same position in terms of what they’re looking to provide. The service will come and will improve as the team has more consistency in both training and match-day lineups, I think, but I think we will see Carranza and Gazdag working almost interchangeably at times like this weekend in terms of who is providing service to whom. I could be way off base there, but that’s my early season thought.

    2. Feel like this is largely covered by 1 as that’s the biggest talking point in the midfield to me. That said, I was impressed with Bedoya’s game in Montreal. I just think the key for him is going to be picking his moments and accepting whatever limitations he may have in terms of how much he can give you. Hopefully he and Curtin are honest and direct with one another about that and we Ale can be used as the strength that he is and managed well to not potentially become an inadvertent late-game liability if he is gassed. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Aaronson, Sullivan, and McGlynn, but I also expect some consistency issues from them given where they are developmentally, and I feel like I’m in the minority not hanging a significant portion of my hopes on them. I hope for greatness there, but I feel obligated to temper my expectations a bit. Martinez has been very solid so far, and he was extremely impressive with his work on the ball in week 1. Flach is going to be interesting to continue to watch (I don’t mean that in a bad way) especially in terms of how his game meshes with that of Wagner. I really don’t know what to expect there, but I am looking forward to keeping tabs on it as the season progresses.

    3. It is Harriel’s job to lose at this point given what we have seen from Mbaizo in his last three appearances. I’m not going to pretend to know the situation or anything, but from an outsider’s perspective, this just screams to me of a guy who needs to get away from the game a little bit and to clear his head. In golfing terms, he’s got the ‘yips,’ and maybe riding the bench a bit will allow him to fix that and work on it in training. Part of me wonders if the ECF is still haunting him a little and impacting his game, and another part of me wonders if he just needs a break considering he went from MLS season to WCQ to COVID to MLS Postseason to AFCON to MLS Season… maybe the guy just needs a couple minutes to catch his breath and clear his head..? Here’s hoping…

    4. I can’t wait for the first lineup featuring Uhre and Carranza. Sadly, we all have to continue to wait for that day, but we should, hopefully, have many opportunities to see that strike partnership develop. I am very impressed with Carranza – he’s a high-work-rate guy, and it is evident immediately. The goals will come; he had an incredible chance on Saturday that was denied, and his assist was a thing of beauty as well. I think the overall take on him in the game is a bit marred by the two yellows, but the first one seemed harsh and unwarranted to me. Uhre only had 30 minutes to make an impression the majority of which the Union played down a man, and he still made a killer impression. If he can perform at the level (or better as he gets attuned to the team and league) on a regular basis, we’re in for a real treat this season.

    5. It looked like they repurposed the old turf from the Vet which they must have removed AFTER it was imploded. It would be a joke, but it has to get in line behind NYCFC playing in Yankee Stadium and having to play CCL matches in California and Connecticut because, despite having one of the wealthiest (if not THE wealthiest) ownership groups in MLS, they are Homeless FC. I can’t rip Montreal too badly because they at least DO have a better stadium that they just can’t use…because it is cold… in March…. in Canada…. who could have ever seen that coming and planned accordingly?

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      I agree with basically all of this.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I could write about 1,000 words to Jeremy’s article today but you seem to have done it and provided a thoughtful and thorough answer… of which I basically am in full concurrence.
      I will add, I have a good deal of concern about Quinn Sullivan and how he fits into the near term and mid-term for sure. I’ve argued he has provided some clutch goals for this team similar to Anthony (Tony) Montana Fontana and it never quite materialized to a spot in the rotation that was for more than a period of Pepto treatable indigestion.
      I think Fontana got hosed and see Sullivan likely suffereing from the same future. Personally, I hope he rolls. He’s got family in Germany.
      We will know how good Gazdag will be in Philly based on his relationship with Uhre. If they are likeminded, I see gazdag scoring some but setting up the Dane often. This is my hope.

      • T.Coolguy says:

        I don’t think Sullivan is likely to get hosed the way Fontana did (though I agree with you Fontana definitely didn’t get a fair shake here). Especially because Sullivan’s younger brother Cavan is apparently considered a can’t miss prospect that I would imagine the Union desperately want to sign. Screw up with Quinn and the Union may be screwing themselves out of a shot with the biggest PA prospect since Pulisic.

    • Tim Jones says:

      “Homeless FC” is brilliant.
      It is truthful. It denigrates no individuals.
      The Muses of humor, irony, and sarcasm were whispering in your ear hen you wrote that.
      Excellently done. Excellently.

    • Homeless FC goes into the PSP hall of fame

  3. #2: One of the great things about B Aaronson was the way he immediately looked to get vertical on turnovers or on receiving the ball – whether it be a pass or a dribble.
    In the MN game Paxten did the same thing and it changed the whole rhythm of the Union offense, making it much more dangerous. Paxten seems to me to be more of a #10 than Gazdag – as was said above.
    While actual game situations will always determine subbing, I would love to see a pre-set sub at the 60-65 min of each game where Ale comes out, Paxten comes in and Gazdag slides over. This would help Paxten develop and faster and keep Ale fresher for a playoff run.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      That’s an interesting suggestion. I’m not sure I see Gazdag as physically active enough to be an 8, but it is a way to get more offense on the field, that’s for sure.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Gazdag is kind of a tweener really. He’s a 10 that likes to drop deep, but not a high-running 8 like Bedoya or Flach. That works – or maybe CAN work – because his 8 aren’t really getting into the attack, but his strikers and outside backs are. He can drop into space and receive the ball and should have 4 guys making vertical-ish runs to find when he does so. Wagner may have made the pass Gazdag should be making when the Hungarian scored on his goal, but Gazdag was checking into that space anyway and was open in the end because he did so – drew the defense out.

  4. Tim Jones says:

    In re: the shiny new toys, I have two points.
    First, Mikael Uhre may not be ready to start yet. WE all saw the pace on the breakaways. But he was jogging on defense, as a lone striker in a man down situation. I do not interpret that as intent but conditioning. He has not played in two months. It will take him the better part of four weeks to get to 90 minutes game fit.
    Second, the shiny new toys may not all have been announced yet. Why? Consider three facts, juxtaposed. There are only 24 players on the active roster, not the 26 that Tanner has previously had a his minimum. And yesterday union II announced its first signing. And recall Jim Curtin’s comment a few press availabilities ago about using Union II to stash away some young players.
    Now that it is possible to use short-term loans to have lower level players “play up” with the first team as many as four times, the mechanics are in place to let young internationals play at the lower level while they are acclimating to living ina foreign culture with different customs and food, and then test themselves at the higher level to see if they are ready for it.
    I would guess more shiny new toys are about to be announced, even thought they may not be fully unwrapped right away.

  5. Deez Nuggs says:

    1) Rewatch the tv broadcast of game 1. Gazdag was better and more involved than you remember. But I think he’s definitely growing in confidence.
    2) Midfield is solid with lots of choices. Ale played well against Homeless FC (LOL) as did Jose. But Jose was full *BEAST MODE* in game 1. Thinking this is a strong midfield that will gel more and more.
    3) Mbaizo still has a strong upside. He has technical skills for days, strength and speed. BUT, he needs to put it all together. Until then, and maybe forever, Harriel needs to be the guy.
    4) Uhre was shockingly attack-minded and dangerous for a 10-man cameo without a preseason. Got me all tingly. Carranza looks totally bought in and that can only mean great things. I’m not sure why Santos wasn’t getting those runs in behind? But once he does…. imagine him and Uhre taking turns running on a trembling back line. Tingly.
    5) You could literally see the squares. Peeled up corners.
    WTF. No injuries and you can’t ask for more.

  6. T.Coolguy says:

    I have a lot of thoughts.

    1) Gazdag is maybe not the right kind of CAM for a lot of teams, but I think he might be the right kind of CAM for Philadelphia. The Union have a decent amount of creativity in their central midfield and striker positions, so having a CAM that has good goal scoring instincts allows the Union to take advantage of that. Paxten Aaronson gives the Union a different look in that position when need be, so the Union have the versatility to change the way their offense works with a single sub. That is very much a good thing.

    2) I think the midfield is going to need to be plug and play, and the way Curtin handles it may determine the Union’s success. I like Flach as a player, but I’d like a bit more offense from CMs in Philadelphia’s set up. That said, Flach provides offense indirectly through his pressing and relentlessness, so he can do well especially against possession oriented teams. That said, I think there will be games where we’d much rather have a player with slicker passing and better dribbling in there. On the other side, while I think he’s still a very good player, Bedoya is probably going to start needing to take more games off to rest. However, the Union have enough depth at the position Curtin has options going forward to play the right horses at the right courses.

    3) Harriel is our right back now. Mbaizo isn’t bad. He’s actually above average in some respects, but he’s too gaffe prone for him to be the kind of player you want to count on in any kind of knockout series. Eventually, he’s going to make a gaffe that sinks you. Harriel has a lot of potential, and is only going to get better if he keeps playing. Curtin wouldn’t have started him if he hadn’t shown that he deserved it, so I look forward to seeing what he does from here.

    4) Uhre is strong, fast and powerful. We haven’t seen enough of him for me to know how good he’ll be this season, but I’m optimistic after his cameo in Montreal. I like Carranza too. He’s a huge workrate player as a striker, and he has a lot of potential to replace Kascper as the playmaking striker. He is a young player and as we saw against Montreal, he’s still young enough to make bad mistakes, but considering how few MLS starts he’s had, I’m cutting him some slack for now.

    5) That playing surface was terrible, but I’m glad the Union got three points there. Hopefully the league keeps Montreal on the road early in the future if this is going to be an issue going forward.

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