For as much as Jim Curtin has grown as a manager, an often-cited flaw in his coaching of the Union has been his tendency to stick with a lineup for a little too long.
Of course, Curtin is far from the only manager in the world's game to be guilty of that. But it still stands out, and it has at times this year.
So it was refreshing to see Curtin make three big changes to the starting lineup for Saturday's game against D.C. United, and it was refreshing to hear him say after the 3-1 win that his team "needed an injection of life. We have a deep roster, and we used it."
In came Brenden Aaronson, Ilsinho and Mark McKenzie; out went Marco Fabián, Aurélien Collin and Fafa Picault. Lightening the load for a night on Fabián and Picault in particular should pay dividends, especially for the upcoming showdown with first-place Atlanta United.
A few more observations on Saturday’s game:
Alejandro Bedoya has been on the field for every minute of the 2,550 the Union have played this season. But he won’t be on the field for the next 90, because his yellow card Saturday earned him a one-game suspension for yellow accumulation.
The foul was a tactical one to prevent a breakaway, but it was unnecessary in the moment. And it was especially unnecessary in the wider context of the game Bedoya will miss: the battle for first place against Atlanta United this Saturday in Chester.
Bedoya let everyone in the locker room after the game know he felt the call was soft. From the press box in real time, it looked like the sort of play in which you invite the referee to book you if he chooses to. Chris Penso did exactly that.
The assumption here is that Warren Creavalle will replace Bedoya against a stacked Atlanta midfield that includes Gonzalo Martínez, Julian Gressel, Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe.
On the surface, Mark McKenzie took the place of Aurélien Collin in the starting lineup as the centerback next to Jack Elliott. At a deeper level, that place might be up for grabs. It was McKenzie’s first start of the season in a league game, and Auston Trusty has fallen down the depth chart - rather shockingly, to be honest - and Aurélien Collin isn’t really supposed to be the every-week starter.
McKenzie certainly made his case. The 20-year-old recorded 46 touches, 4 tackles and 3 clearances, won 3 aerial duals and completed 33 of 35 passes. His 94.3% pass completion percentage was the highest of any Union player on the night.
There’s some time to sort the depth chart out, since the Atlanta game is followed by a FIFA break (and a meaningless Union friendly against Mexican club Pumas UNAM on Sept. 7). But there isn’t a lot of time, and Trusty and McKenzie (and Brenden Aaronson) might miss some of it if they go to a U.S. national team under-23 training camp scheduled for the FIFA window.
The roster for that camp (which includes a game against Japan’s under-23 team on Sept. 9) isn’t set yet, but all three of those players are candidates for it. The under-23 age group will play in next summer’s Olympics if it qualifies, which the U.S. men haven’t done since 2008. Concacaf’s qualifying tournament is set for late March.
By now, you’re used to seeing Kacper Przybylko score goals. He delivered his 11th in 20 league games this season on Saturday. Przybylko did a lot more than that, though: 46 touches, 3 chances created, 4 successful dribbles against opponents and 25 of 27 passes completed. He even threw in a tackle and an interception for good measure.
The 92.6% pass completion rate is worth special attention, because it’s not really his strong suit. Of course, it isn’t supposed to be: a 6-foot-4 striker’s job is to finish passes, not start them. But Saturday’s game was just the fifth this season in which Przybylko completed more than 80 percent of his passes, and just the second in which he’s gone over 90 percent.
Honorable mention for best box score line goes to Jack Elliott: 64 touches, 2 tackles, 5 interceptions, 6 clearances, 1 block and 43 of 48 passes completed.