Analysis / Commentary / Union

The Union’s three ironmen

Photo Marjorie Elzey

Jakob Glesnes has recently earned public recognition for 100 consecutive starts in Major League Soccer. He is, and has been, an ironman. For the first 28 Major League Soccer games this season he played every minute. Here are his 2023 numbers, pending Decision Day. Starts are in parentheses in the appearances row. He did not play in the Open Cup match against Minnesota.

  MLS LC CCL Overall
App 30 (30) 7 (7) 5 (5) 42 (42)
Min 2,700 584 450 3,734
Ave 90 83 90 89


But Glesnes is not the only ironman. There are two others.

Unsurprisingly one  is Jack Elliott, Glesnes’ partner at center back. Almost as consistently as Amon-Ra driving the chariot of the sun from east to west across the skies of Upper Egypt, Jim Curtin fills out his lineup card with Elliott and Glesnes as his center backs. Here are Elliot’s numbers, also pending Decision Day.

  MLS LC CCL US OC Overall
App 31 (30) 7 (7) 4 (4) 1 (1) 43 (42)
Min 2,700 630 360 120 3,810
Ave 90 90 90 120 91

In all 2023’s competitions to date Glesnes and Elliott have 42 starts each.

Perhaps less obvious as an ironman is Daniel Gazdag. He matches the center backs’ 42 starts and surpasses them on total appearances with 46. Here are the Hungarian’s numbers pending Decision Day.

  MLS LC CCL US OC Hungary   Overall
App 31 (29) 6 (6) 6 (5) 1 (1) 2 (1) 46 (42)
Min 2,643 496 469 120 109 3,837
Ave 86 83 78 120 55 84
What does having three ironmen mean?

The Union has had no adequate replacement for its attacking midfielder. Even when the Hungarian’s international duty is eliminated, he still leads the team in total appearances. That in its turn leads to other important conclusions.

  • In 2023 the eyeball test says that Union has initially defended with seven rather than eight.
  • That same test says other teams’ off-season analysis suggested double, triple and quadruple-teaming the Hungarian at every opportunity, especially in Zone 14.
  • The eyeball further says there has been less one-touch magic in Zone 14 this year than there was last.
  • Long, direct service to open green space behind the opponent has dominated Union attacking to the point of the club becoming almost one dimensional.
  • Mikael Uhre’s contribution has shrunk to threatening that green space. He does it well with his pace, strength, and guile. But last year he contributed more in other attacking dimensions.

A close second in importance to no depth behind Gazdag has been the inability of Joaquin Torres and Andres Perea to contribute effectively to general squad rotation. The  starting wheel horses are worn out from too much load-pulling. How many times since the Leagues Cup has the Union started brightly in the first 20 0r 30 minutes only to deteriorate into a grinding slog throughout the second half securing a draw instead of a win?

Earlier in the season the Union won games in the CCL by outworking their opponent late in the match. Perhaps they did not own every final fifteen minutes, but they came close.

They no longer do that. When early in the season Montreal won in Canada with two very late goals, fans were bitterly surprised. But now that pattern has become an unspoken underlying fear.

As the main public spokesmen of the technical staff warned last winter, 2023’s extra games have created actual difficulty, and if the team does well in 2024 next year it has the potential to repeat it. It could have as many games or more than 2023. For Philadelphia Concacaf’s Champion’s Cup will be larger than the old Champion’s League by one home-and-away round. And 2024’s season tickets indicate the Leagues Cup will be the exactly same. So will the U. S. Open Cup in all probability.

Money must be spent to identify and acquire more and better “present use” bench reserves. Money should be available from the extra tickets and extra TV fees from this year’s extra games. And probably more such players are needed than only last year’s three.


  1. Is it the lack of depth or the inability of Jim to effectively use or even make subs in game. Case in point was last game when he put a CB in going 5 at the back to concede a home draw. Perea had some effective minutes before being loaned out to a team that is using him. If we needed and were going to use rotation, then why loan him. Torres doesn’t seem to have worked out, well after the first game anyway. Something just didn’t click there, maybe not a good distributor.

    But the lack of subs always bothers me went you see other teams using their subs to put fresh legs on and Jim can hardly bear to take Ale off when he is obviously gassed.

    • Part of the issue when Perea was loaned was that the team did not expect the rash of midfield injuries that have happened. Bedoya, Martinez, Flach, and Bueno have all missed time due to injury since the Perea loan.
      And that leads to a major factor in the lack of subs last game. Bueno was out. Flach is back in the lineup but hasn’t played in so long that he is likely just an emergency back-up. So there was a lack of like for like subs to bring in for Bedoya, which is why he eventually brought in a 3rd center back.

      • Wasn’t Torres on the bench?

      • Torres isn’t a replacement for Ale, he has shown no ability to play defense. With Elliott they can change formations to one they are used to. If Torres came in they would have to play something like a 4-2-2-2.

    • As inclined as I am to feel like Jim should get more out of the squad — with players like Sullivan — and is often too slow to make changes, I don’t think he has any genuine difference makers. Last year, Burke proved to be really effective. Come in with 20 minutes left and run at tired center backs like a berserker. I remember Torres being talked about as a potential heir to that role — “He can take defenders on the dribble… He’s the next Ilsinho.” Not so much… We have good defensive subs like Bueno and Lowe, but not way to really change the dimension of the attack.

      Maybe one could argue we could get more with a change of shape. I often wonder what we’d look like with genuine wingers, say Uhre, Carranza and Sullivan across the top in from left to right. I think, wedded to this tactical system, we’re a little bit limited.

  2. I don’t disagree with your points, but he is an attacking option off the bench. Perhaps riskier than going with Elliot but maybe a better chance for all 3 points. Nashville didn’t look like they were creating much at that point anyway.

  3. Want to keep your first team fresher and prevent all the problems that come with so many additional games and competitions? Set better priorities for the club. If you focus on MLS Playoffs and a credible run at the cup, then focus on that and de-prioritize the rest. Want another trophy? Maybe make a run at the US Open Cup as well because that’s at least win or go home without the additional home & away or group games the other tourneys require.

    This would mean playing your reserves and only your reserves in all the other competitions the U might qualify for, because as secondary priorities they are distractions. Win the MLS Cup or Eastern Conference and you get entered in the other tournaments anyway with all the benefits thereof. With this approach, maybe Jim also gets to see the true value of all the secondary players he doesn’t trust enough to get off the bench.

    If you’re one of Garber’s most favored clubs, you can use your dark money and pursue multiple priorities. The DIY Union intentionally do not fit that profile. So stay focused and keep your top line players fresh enough to win the Conference and go deep in the playoffs, maybe stealing a Cup or Shield along the way. All the other competitions don’t matter if your priorities are in the right place.

  4. Hoping recent periods of rest for some of the tired legs will help us regain that “bite” that we all know and recognize. We saw it during the Atlanta game after a string of injuries/rotation/suspensions… they can turn it on at the snap of a finger.
    We just got Flach back, perhaps some mins vs NE to get him back to game speed. Bueno’s ankle should be fine for the first rd. Another brujo suspension means more rest for him. I think there is an international break too.
    Come playoffs, go back to your bread and butter diamond and remind opponents that they can be lethal when rested/motivated.

  5. Not related to the article, but does anyone know why Martinez didn’t dress for Venezuela’s upset draw in Brazil last night? I’m assuming that Bueno’s still injured but was surprised when I looked at the lineup and didn’t see Martinez.

    • I saw the same detail but found no explanation either.
      My best guess would be giving opportunity to younger players. CONMEBOL qualifying takes two years to complete, and the old stalwarts of which Martinez is one will be that much older by 2026.
      The younger guys took a point from Brazil, so the move has to be judged a success.

  6. Been watching Perea with NYCFC. He looks like he can be useful. What was his problem in Philly, maybe didn’t fit into the formation?

    • In part I think he just wasn’t getting much playing time given the Union’s initial depth at midfield. Then Bedoya, Flach, and Martinez all missed time with injury and they could have used him.

      • I thought it was because he wasn’t doing the defensive work that the Union’s style/system requires of all of their players?

      • My perceptions agreed with JayKoz3’s. He ended too wide, away from the other mids when they had to instantly transition to defense. HIs diamond was not narrow enough defensively.
        I am assuming Sullivan and/or Bueno will take Bedoya’s spot next season, so Perea would be a depth piece. But Flach’s injury situation makes midfield depth that much more important.
        To say nothing of next season’s possible workload for everyone.

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