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Brenden Aaronson’s emotional Union farewell will be remembered far longer than the playoff loss

Aaronson nearly broke down in tears reflecting on playing his final game for the team that has held his heart for a decade.

The Union's playoff loss to New England was the last with the team for Brenden Aaronson, right, before his move to Austria's Red Bull Salzburg.
The Union's playoff loss to New England was the last with the team for Brenden Aaronson, right, before his move to Austria's Red Bull Salzburg.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

When Brenden Aaronson was subbed off in the 61st minute of the Union’s playoff loss to New England, the fans at Subaru Park didn’t seem to notice.

That was understandable in the moment, because everyone cared most about the Union trying to get out of the 2-0 hole they were in. But at the end of the game, they realized they had just watched Aaronson play at Subaru Park for the last time as a Union player.

As he left the field, a “Thank you, Brenden!” chant went up from the River End. It lacked some gusto because of the loss, but it was still audible across the stadium.

Afterward, Aaronson nearly broke down in tears reflecting on playing his final game for the team that has held his heart for a decade.

» READ MORE: Union sell Brenden Aaronson to Red Bull Salzburg for $6 million, launching the Medford native to Europe’s soccer spotlight

“It’s just hitting a lot right now, and tomorrow’s probably going to be the same,” the Medford native said. “Hopefully we’re all going to get over it at some point. It’s not going to kill us for the rest of our lives. But it’s really tough to sink in right now.”

The emotions of that moment will live on for a long time.

Kai Wagner

Over the weekend, Wagner gave an interview to Germany’s top soccer magazine, Kicker, in which he said he’s ready to move back to Europe. Transfermarkt and other outlets have reported that Wagner has serious interest from clubs including the English Premier League’s West Ham United. If West Ham’s offer is legitimate, the Union would be foolish to turn it down.

There couldn’t have been a worse time for Wagner to have a bad game, and he had a really bad one Tuesday. Although his 78 touches were the fourth-most on the team and he won two aerial duels, he recorded just one tackle and zero interceptions, and was whistled for five fouls. He was torched by Tajon Buchanan on New England’s second goal.

Wagner’s 46-of-57 passing performance wasn’t bad, but he was just 1-of-3 on attempted crosses. That’s bad both in terms of completion rate and total attempts.

» READ MORE: Union’s season ends with 2-0 playoff loss to New England Revolution

Kacper Przybylko

He took two shots and completed all nine of his passes, but that’s not nearly enough of a contribution.

Przybylko scored just one goal in his last 12 games this year, and it was a penalty kick. That’s over 1,100 straight minutes without a goal from open play to end the season.

A year after scoring 15 goals, Przybylko finished 2020 with eight — and he only found the net in six of the 27 games he played. Sergio Santos was the Union’s top scorer this year with 11 goals.

Przybylko never needs reminding of anything. He has always been his toughest critic. He knows he needs to do better next year, both in total goals and how often he scores them.

» READ MORE: Union’s Andre Blake, Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson make MLS team of the season

Mark McKenzie

This was almost certainly his last Union game too, as he’s next in line to be sold to Europe. He went out with another great effort: 82 touches (third-most on the team), two aerial duels won, one tackle, two interceptions, one block, and 57-of-70 passing.

McKenzie was the last Union player to leave the field, and applauded the few fans who were still around at that point. His class and character will be missed as much as his talent, and it’s easy to see him becoming a leader of the U.S. national team in the future.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Jakob Glesnes had the most touches of any Union player in the game with 89. Three of the top four Union players in touches were defenders; the other was Jamiro Monteiro at No. 2 with 83. That’s a sign of how ineffective the Union’s attack was at breaking down New England’s defense.

» READ MORE: Union owners Jay Sugarman and Richie Graham finally see the payoff after nearly a decade of investing in the future

A few final words

Alejandro Bedoya summed up the widespread feeling when he said the Union “had home-field advantage throughout and we threw it away.”

“I’m probably going to still think of what would have been, what could have been,” the Union’s captain said. “I’m very disappointed. It sucks. I’m distraught, everything. I thought it was there for the taking.”

There will be plenty of people who call the Union chokers, especially those for whom this game was their first time watching the team all year.

But this loss doesn’t invalidate winning the team’s first ever trophy. In fact, it wasn’t even Tuesday night’s biggest upset in the MLS playoffs. Toronto FC had all of its stars on the field, the core of a team that has reached three of the last four MLS Cup finals, and was beaten by expansion team Nashville SC 1-0 in extra time.

The Eastern Conference’s top two seeds both lost to play-in round winners. On top of that, the two teams that have won trophies so far this year, Philadelphia and Portland, both lost at home in the first round.

It’s absurd that the Union and Revolution played each other six times this season. That doesn’t happen in soccer, whether in MLS or the rest of the world. Hopefully it won’t happen again, and not just because the COVID-19 vaccine is coming soon.

This was the Revolution’s first win over the Union since July 30, 2017, a streak of 10 games. It was going to happen sooner or later. Unfortunately, it happened at the worst possible time.