Commentary / The Overlap / Union

The Overlap: All mixed up

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

The last two weeks of my life have been consumed by each member of my family getting Covid in turn—my son, then my wife, then my daughter—waiting for it to find me, all while I did my best to be a good partner and parent, taking care of whoever needed it but trying not to get too close to any of them. Everyone has tested negative, at this point, and are doing well, so we seem to have passed through this current gantlet. As for me, it is possible I will test negative tomorrow, having picked it up at the tail end of my loved ones’ infectious period, but as of now, I am miraculously unscathed.

This course of events has left me befuddled. How could I, in a house of under 1400 square feet and only one bathroom, with an infected 8- and 5-year-old to manage, not gotten sick myself? I am either incredibly lucky or did, in fact, get infected, but in a way that somehow never showed up on daily home tests. Neither idea seems likely, but what other possibilities are there?

And what, you are probably wondering, does this have to do with the Union? If you will forgive the tortured analogy, the Union seem to have passed through a similarly strange period, where it felt as if things were going quite wrong, and yet, here we are at the end of it (we hope), and the Union remain in first place in the Eastern Conference, with the best defense in the league by many measures, and Dániel Gazdag playing at or close to an MVP level.

How can both things be true?

How can the Union be suffering through a slump that has everyone, from the players, to the coaching staff, to the fanbase, angry at the missed opportunities and lost points, yet only leave their first-place spot while waiting to play their late game on Sunday night?

Part of the answer is that, outside of NYC FC, no team in the East has things put together. Red Bull seemed like a force to be reckoned with but saw the Union draw Miami and said, “Hold my beer.” Orlando? They could win or lose 3–0 every game. Montréal’s on the up, but let a lead slip against RSL.

For the Union’s part, they are looking like the team we all thought they were, with a stellar defense and mostly misfiring strikers. Julián Carranza has been revelatory, but missed the Miami game because of his loan terms and will now miss the next match because Alan Chapman thought the referees hadn’t featured enough in Sunday’s game and gave Carranza a yellow for time-wasting as he walked off the field. Mikael Uhre continues to be a tantalizing possibility more than an actual player. And Sergio Santos and Cory Burke? They remain, as ever, themselves. Which is to say not quite good enough to carry a title-winner.

Late spring or early summer often bring with them a low period for the Union. If the worst thing that happens to the Union’s form this season is to go five games without a win, but also without losing, then they will have a very fine season indeed. That’s not to say the criticism directed toward the team is unwarranted. Giving up leads—so many leads—is a problem. So is failing to put away good chances.

It’s all in the perspective one takes. Could the Union be better? Damn right they could. But think about what that would mean. It would mean this Union team might end up being the best in team history. Which follows on two other years of the team being the best it’s ever been. If this team puts it together all the way, winning the MLS Cup is the only reasonable expectation.

Points potpourri

Yes, it’s mentioned above, but Cory Burke and Sergio Santos have been beyond frustrating to watch. Against Miami, every time Burke got a touch, he took three or four where one or two were warranted, and nothing would come of it. Against Portland, Santos’s decision making was so confusing. It was good he got a goal, because before that he seemed intent on undoing all the good work he’d done carrying the ball forward into the attack by making counterintuitive runs off the ball. At one point, after doing so well to keep the ball in play on the sideline, Santos fed the ball forward to Carranza. Rather than move into the obvious open space on the overlap and receive a one-two that might have put him in on goal, Santos simply ran straight toward his teammate, following his own pass. It confused everyone, on both sides of the ball.

How about Dániel Gazdag, though? He’s playing like he’s back in the Hungarian league again, just scoring for fun, and always being dangerous. Even the optimists among us must be surprised at the degree of his improvement from his first season in MLS.

Winning in Portland is very fun. The Union, historically, do poorly after flights to the West Coast, but considering how they performed against LAFC and the Timbers, that trend is changing.

The look on Leon Flach’s face in the 51st minute, when he realized that play couldn’t restart because Santos was down injured, made me feel very seen. Glad it’s not just me that’s tired of the amount of time Santos spends on the ground. To be fair to him, he did very little of that against Portland, and got subbed off immediately once he did.

With that possible injury, and Carranza suspended, fingers crossed for Mikael Uhre. He might be the key that unlocks the Union’s best version. But he’s got to get and stay healthy so he can have a run of games.


  1. You may have gotten COVID recently without showing any symptoms and therefore you had enough antibodies in your system. Or you are one of thousands of people repeatedly exposed to the virus but who never get sick. Scientists hope their DNA may hold clues to new kinds of treatments.
    Was a pleasure to wake up Monday morning and see that score! And then read in the PSP match report how well they played. Hope they can keep it up and score more. Scoring more than 1 goal makes all the difference!

  2. SilverRey says:

    One thing you didn’t mention was the squad rotation during this stretch. Some things stood out to me in Jim’s decisions.
    The first was sacrificing the Open Cup. The days of the bench coming in to win the first round are over. We are no longer playing the likes Harrisburg or a lucky amateur team as our first round in this format, it’s straight to MLS. They put out a team that could win, while we played Burke alone in a whacked out formation. Yes we should have a bench that can handle an OC win, but that lineup did us no favors.
    The second stems off of that, why were we “resting” Carranza when we knew he was going to be out against Miami? I didn’t get this move at all.
    I know pride was on the line but we should have played our whack lineup against LAFC, a game that meant a lot less in the big scheme of things (away west coast, late night, opp conf). That domino (while being a fun game) pretty much set up getting every lineup wrong for that “slump”.
    Ties are better than losses though. 0nce again our D is bailing us out so far this year, keeping us in the game – and keeping so high in everyone’s power rankings.

  3. Mike Latyn says:

    Good luck with the COVID thing. As for home tests, my 4 year old grandson tested negative twice, second test followed shortly by positive PCR. Nice article…

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    I have friends that watch the Union now, mostly because I am into them, so they’ll text me when the games are on. Every game, without fail, one of them will text me about Santos being down “injured”. Even they know it’s a thing. Ridiculous.
    As for that run he “made” off the Carranza pass, I almost woke people up in my house, at how ridiculous that was. Oh Santos…
    Glad COVID didn’t seem to bad for your family. We had our bout around this time last year. We each got it in 2 week intervals over a 6 week period. Right at the end of the quarantine period, the next person would get it, even thought they had zero contact at all. We all did ok overall. Stay safe

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