Commentary / The Overlap / Union

The Overlap: Treading water

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

I’m not going to lie: it feels like the Union may never win again.

Yes, I realize they won just two games ago, a very satisfying win over NYC FC.

And, yes, it’s true they’ve only lost once in their last 11 games—only twice all season!

But after starting the season with five wins in six games, it feels like the Union have lost their ability to win games.

That setup makes it sound like I’m building a straw man to knock down but I’m here to let you know that’s not the case. Something is definitely wrong with the Union, and has been for some time. We’ve talked about the issue on this website multiple times: the team needs to find a way to get the ball to its offensive playmakers more consistently, and when they get it they need to be clinical. Knowing the solution and executing it are different things, of course, and if it were easy the team would have done it by now.

And yet—here’s that big caveat you heard approaching—as bad as things feel right now in Unionland, it’s important to retain some perspective.

What’s past is prologue

Remember every year before, say, 2018?

This ain’t that. The Union’s defense, even as the offense scuffles along, is the best unit in the league. And looking around the Eastern Conference, even the league as a whole, there isn’t a team that has separated from the pack. They may be causing us all agita, but the Union ended the holiday weekend second in the East (and fourth overall), just two points back of the leaders, with a game in hand. Their points per game is a wholly respectable, if not world-beating, 1.67.

None of which makes their current run of boring, dispiriting offensive play acceptable. No, what is so galling about this time period is not that the Union are bad. (They are arguably not that bad, really.) It’s that they could be so much better and, if they played to their potential, could be up there with LAFC as the class of the league.

The class of the league is what the Union looked for about nine games. That 2–2 draw away to LAFC was one that you could spin positively, but following on two other draws, not to mention the loss to Toronto (a loss that looks worse by the day), and followed by further dropped points against Miami, Cincinnati, and Chicago . . . . Well, they aren’t the class of the league anymore.

No, they are a team that screams for a Plan B—a player or formation change that can generate forward momentum when the machine stalls out. The Union haven’t had that all season long, but it’s been worse lately. With Sergio Santos taking a stay abroad at the Cory Burke Visa/Green Card Issues Memorial Hotel, Julián Carranza missing time due to suspension, and Mikael Uhre working back from injury, the offensive options cupboard has been bare. If only some of those promising Homegrowns were available to take that next step up.

Oh wait.

Reinforcements arriving

Perhaps you heard: The Union-powered U.S. Men’s Youth National Team U-20s just demolished the competition at the Concacaf Championship? Qualifying the US for the Olympics for the first time since 2008? Where Jack McGlynn scored twice and ran the show offensively? Where Quinn Sullivan scored six goals and had three assists? And Paxten Aaronson won the Golden Boot and the tournament’s best player award after scoring seven goals, including two in the final?

The Union could have used players like that these past weeks.

But boy was it worth it to send them away.

Now, it’s not fair to expect them to come straight into the team and solve what ails the Union. That tournament was played against teams of other young players, after all, not adult professionals. Nevertheless, confidence is a drug, and when you’re playing well—regardless of where, and against whom—that gives you confidence, and confidence leads to improved play. It’s called a virtuous cycle. Quinn, Paxten, and Jack (and Brandan Craig, too) will come back absolutely buzzing, and itching to prove they can dominate more than their peer group. Who are we to say they can’t?

There’s also the possibility of outside reinforcements being summoned via transfer. I’ve heard no rumors of incomings, though, and the truth is bringing in players at the same positions as the Homegrowns would be counterproductive to the whole Union developmental model.

No, this is a hole the Union dug for themselves, and it’s up to them to find a way out of it. Despite the evidence our eyes have given us, all the pieces are there. With the young players back in the fold, and Santos’s eventual return, there’s firepower enough to get the Union ticking over again.

They just have to, you know, do it.


  1. SoccerDad says:

    They should push to replace Leon with Jesse Lingard.

    -Said with tongue firmly in cheek.

  2. Jesse Lingard is the first big name euro player I have ever actually wanted to join the Union. Would be so fun

  3. The missing link

    I will be the first to admit, I dont like the Unions offensive style. Its too predicable and therefore becomes easier to defend against. Curtin does not mix his stlyes at all. Its mostly counter attacking with either long balls over the top with forwards racing at full speed hoping they get a great first touch from a perfectly lofted ball or Kai Wagner executing the perfect cross into the box.

    There is rarely play through the middle in the final two thirds with short accurate passes and offensive players making diagonal runs to draw the opposition out of position.

    They Union desperately need to have a couple of different styles of attack and be able to transition into that style during the game.

    Thats why a keep screaming for them to get an an experienced highly skilled 2 way midfileder start him and sit Flach on the bench until he is needed.

    If you do this you free up Gazdag to get into better positions or actually utilize him to create better opportunities for Caranza, Uhre or Santos (if he ever returns).

    Nolan Ryan was one the best. most effective fastball pitchers in MLB. but he had a curve ball and change up to keep the batters guessing.

    The Eagles had one of the fastest and productive wide receivers ever in Desean Jackson but they did not throw him the bomb every third play. It would not be effective. If they did teams would double team or play him deep.

    • I will agree that Flach is an offensive liability, but I fear that our score early give up goals late style is more due to Bedoya. The team suffers as he gets tired, which is happening faster and faster as the season progresses.

      • agree if they got the 2 way mid I described he could be used to spell or start for Bedoya as well. Either way they would have better options. At this stage of his career Bedoya is hurting at the 60 minute mark. He is less effective both offensively and defensively. Thats why I said they desperately need an effective 2 way midfielder.

        Barnetta could play left or right had vision and offensive dribbling and passing skills. He Could take a direct kick and was not afraid to play defense . Thats the kind of player they need.

  4. The lockers are being emptied. We’re about to find out if anyone is moving into them, or could it be that the youth movement shifts into a higher gear today?

    • HopkinsMD says:

      It will be interesting to see what happens. It’s footie, but I’m viewing Union more like chess as of late.

  5. Not too happy with the reports that Santos is going to be traded to Cincinnati for more cash. Firstly, I like Santos and despite having Carranza and Uhre, he gives you something those two lack…blazing speed. Secondly, more cash, really? It would be nice for the Union to make a big signing by the end of the year with all their stocked cash, but I won’t hold my breath. And that’s a shame because you just need a piece or two to be a genuine title contender and not just in the mix with the other Eastern Conference teams. And finally thirdly, we better see more of our U-20 stars get more time if they don’t make any more moves. Dare I say start them!

    • The Union actually don’t have a lot of “stocked cash” as they’ve used quite a bit of it already. The Santos trade opens up more room for Sullivan and Pax to play. Santos’ contract is up at the end of the season, and he’s barely played thus far in 2022. What good is having a speedy player if they rarely are available and healthy to play?
      The Findlay transfer opens up more playing time for a rapidly improving Brandon Craig at CB.

      • Yeah Santos was very injury prone, so definitely won’t miss that. I know Findlay was never going to play so agree with that for sure. At least there was some hope that Santos would play again. I’m all for these moves if it does mean more playing time for the youngsters, make no mistake.

      • Also, there’s speculation that Carranza’s loan has a $500K Allocation Money purchase stipulation. this trade could be about funding that.

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