When the Union signed Dániel Gazdag last year, they wanted him to do a lot of things.
They wanted him to be a big part of their high press, as they want of all their attacking players. They wanted him to be a playmaking passer at the top of the midfield diamond. And they wanted him to score goals to relieve pressure on a striker corps that was a long ways from including Mikael Uhre and Julián Carranza.
It took Gazdag a while to fully settle in, which naturally happens with many midseason arrivals to Major League Soccer. But now we’re seeing the total package.
The Hungarian has scored a goal in each of the Union’s last four games, which is four out of the five total so far this year. He’s also the team’s leader in shots per game (2.2) and is tied for third in key passes per game (1.2), a measure of scoring chances created.
“I think we’ve done a better job of getting him on the ball in that ‘green zone,’ the area in front of the centerbacks and behind their No. 6 [defensive midfielder], which is the most dangerous area on the field,” Union manager Jim Curtin said this week as the Union prepared for Saturday’s home game against Columbus (6 p.m., PHL17).
“Once he gets it now, if he turns and the forwards in front of him run in behind, and the center backs have to drop, he’s shown that he can shoot from distance,” Curtin said. “He’s shown that if, now, the center backs release to him, he can slip a guy through for a breakaway.”
Gazdag has quickly built strong chemistry with Carranza in particular. That can be seen from the eye test, since scoring chances that don’t become goals can end up outside the history books.
“They’re not guys that are going to get on the ball, do 16 stepovers and blow by you, like Ilsinho used to with the first step that just explodes by guys,” Curtin said, with no offense meant to stepovers or Ilsinho.
“They set up their defenders where now Dániel will play a ball into Julián, and Dániel will change speeds and get it back, and it’ll set them up in little one-twos, little combinations,” Curtin continued. “They kind of have to think the game, and think a pass or two ahead.”
What about Uhre? Glad you asked.
Uhre-Carranza duo to debut Saturday
How’s that for an answer.
Curtin rarely likes to offer details on his starting lineups in advance, especially when facing Columbus manager Caleb Porter. (New England’s Bruce Arena gets this honor, too.) But Curtin knows as well as anyone that six games into the season is long enough to wait to see Uhre and Carranza play together. So he let it out that it will happen Saturday.
“You’re going to see it this game,” Curtin said. “That’s about as clear as I’ve ever been on lineups. But yeah, it’s time.”
If you really want to get particular, Curtin didn’t directly say Carranza will start. But the point was made well enough: it is indeed time to see the Union’s top striker duo get an extended run.
Union’s reserve team off to strong start
The Union’s reserve team needed just four minutes of its first game in the new MLS Next Pro league to score its first goal, and it has continued to look good since.
Union II, as it’s officially called, won that opener 2-0 over FC Cincinnati’s reserves on March 27 with goals from a pair of Venezuelan midfielders, first-team backup Jesús Bueno and 21-year-old prospect Juan Luis Perdomo.
The team’s second game was last Sunday at Inter Miami’s reserves, and the box score drew attention for a host of reasons. First, the game was decided in a penalty kick shootout after a 3-3 tie in regulation. The Union II won the shootout 4-3.
All MLS Next Pro games that end tied go to penalties to give the prospects the experience. Before purists cry foul (and soccer haters call it a great idea), know that there’s no way this rule will be applied in MLS. The league has no interest in it. But there’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation at the reserve level.
Now about the 3-3 part. Paxten Aaronson, Jack McGlynn and 19-year-old Senegalese attacking midfielder Boubacar Diallo scored the goals. Diallo was another of Union II’s international signings, from Senegalese club Diambars FC.
You might not have heard of Diambars, but you might know of three of its alumni who played big roles for the Senegal team that won this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. Left back Saliou Ciss was the starter at that spot, forward Bamba Dieng came off the bench often and scored against Jamiro Monteiro’s Cape Verde in the round of 16, and central midfielder Idrissa Gueye is a star for his country and Paris Saint-Germain.
Miami also contributed two notable names to last Sunday’s box score. Former Union academy forward Shanyder Borgelin scored the Herons’ last two goals, including a 94th-minute equalizer; and Romeo Beckham, one of Inter part-owner David Beckham’s three sons, assisted on all three goals.
It’s up to you whether it’s bigger news that one of Beckham’s sons is a worthy player, or that Romeo already is 19 years old.
Union II’s next game is against Columbus’ reserves at 5 p.m. Sunday at Subaru Park.