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The Union’s Dániel Gazdag is hitting his stride right in time for the start of the MLS playoffs

The Hungarian playmaker scored three goals in the Union’s last five regular-season games, then scored in each of his national team’s World Cup qualifiers this month.

Dániel Gazdag celebrates after scoring his first goal for the Union, a penalty kick against Toronto FC on Aug. 4 at Subaru Park.
Dániel Gazdag celebrates after scoring his first goal for the Union, a penalty kick against Toronto FC on Aug. 4 at Subaru Park.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

All of a sudden, Dániel Gazdag is on a bit of a hot streak.

Not a huge one, to be clear, but enough of one that it’s noticeable. And with the Union’s latest foray into the MLS playoffs starting Saturday, Gazdag’s good form couldn’t come at a better time.

In the Union’s last five regular-season games, he registered 3 goals, 12 shots, 4 chance-creating passes and 1 assist, and completed at least 90% of his passes in three of those games.

Then he went to Hungary’s national team, and scored a goal in each of the Magyars’ final World Cup qualifiers: a 4-0 home win over San Marino and a 2-1 win at Poland. (Hungary finished third in its group, so it did not advance.)

Now the long stretch from late June into October when an Aug. 4 penalty kick was his only goal in 17 Union games — included four where he began the game on the bench — feels like it’s fading into the past.

The spark came during the Union’s Oct. 20 at game at Minnesota United. Just before halftime, Gazdag rocketed in a shot for his first Union goal from open play. Nine minutes into the second half, he scored again. It was clear that a burden had come off his shoulders.

“After that game, I felt that yeah, now I am here, and now I can help the team,” Gazdag told The Inquirer this week in an interview after returning from Hungary.

“When I arrived, I felt that I needed some time to get used to the league, to my new team, to my new teammates, and I think the first two or three months was about this,” he said. “I tried to learn a lot, I tried to learn how the team is playing. And I think in the last month I got used to it, and I really can help the team with my movements, with how I play.”

Building chemistry

Gazdag joined a four-man midfield in which the other three players are Union cornerstones: Alejandro Bedoya, José Andrés Martínez, and Jamiro Monteiro. The last of them is especially important to Gazdag’s role as a playmaker, since Monteiro is also on the ball a lot.

“To build the chemistry in the dressing room was easy,” Gazdag said. “What was a bit more difficult [was] to build the chemistry on the pitch, because we have to learn about each other; we have to know how we are moving on the pitch. And of course, to get this chemistry, we needed time.”

» READ MORE: José Andrés Martínez reflects on playing against Lionel Messi and Neymar and his love for Philadelphia

Another reason the chemistry took time to build is that due to injuries and other factors, Gazdag has been shoehorned into at least five positions at various times this year: at the top of the midfield diamond in a 4-4-2, on the left side of that diamond, on the right side of it, as a second striker, and as one of two playmakers in a 4-3-2-1.

“Now we are in a good way,” he said. “And I think we are lucky because we start to play well together in the best part of the league [season].”

Where does Gazdag fit best? If the eye test leads you toward a certain answer, he might just have the same one.

“The position that I like the most is the No. 10,” he said. “And I think in the last games when we played with two No. 10s, that was really good for us, for the team and also for me.”

Gazdag hasn’t just built chemistry with the Union’s veterans. He really likes what he sees from the team’s youngsters.

“I was surprised when I arrived and I asked Paxten [Aaronson] how old he is, and he told me that he’s 17,” he said. “And he told me that Quinn [Sullivan] and Jack McGlynn, they are the same age.”

He called them “better than most of the 17-year-old guys” he has seen in his travels.

» READ MORE: Latest Union phenom Paxten Aaronson keeps up family tradition

A first Thanksgiving and a first playoffs

Off the field, Gazdag and his family have settled in the same suburb as Kai Wagner and Jakob Glesnes’ families. They all have young kids who like to play together. The older of Gazdag’s two children, also named Daniel, has started preschool here — a privilege for any international player who comes to MLS with his family.

“For us it’s very important,” Gazdag said. “Now we are preparing for Thanksgiving — this will be our first Thanksgiving. So, yeah, we like to be here in America.”

It has helped, too, to have a number of friends playing in MLS. Kansas City’s Dániel Sallói and Dallas’ Szabolcs Schön are national team colleagues, and Nashville’s Aníbal Godoy was once a teammate at Honvéd, the Hungarian club from which Gazdag joined the Union. A former Sporting player, Botond Baráth, also played with Gazdag at Honvéd and is now back there.

What advice did they give? High up the list, Gazdag said, was talking him out of his dislike of flying.

“They know that I hate to fly,” he said. “They were laughing on this, that I will get used to being in the air. And they were right. I don’t say that now I like to be in the air, but I am OK with that.”

Fortunately, he won’t have to go anywhere for the Union’s playoff opener on Saturday against the rival New York Red Bulls at Subaru Park. It will be his first experience of an American sports postseason, which most of European soccer doesn’t have, and he’s looking forward to it.

“I’m really happy that we reached that in my first year, because this is why I came here to this club: to play in big games,” Gazdag said. “I’m excited because of the playoffs, and I hope that we can go as far as we can.”

How to watch Saturday’s game

Local fans have three ways to tune in: in English on over-the-air PHL17, in Spanish on Univision’s national broadcast (via over-the-air Univision 65, cable channel TUDN. or, and via Major League Soccer’s website and apps.

Because of the local English-language broadcast and the online stream the league is offering, there won’t be an English audio feed on Univision’s broadcast, or the free stream on Twitter that usually accompanies Univision games.

Kickoff will be at 2:38 p.m. Pregame coverage on PHL17 and TUDN will start at 2 p.m., and on Univision at 2:30.

» READ MORE: The full MLS playoffs TV schedule