The Union lost to Minnesota United, 3-2, on Wednesday night at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn.
Dániel Gazdag scored his long-awaited first Union goals from open play, in the 45th and 54th minutes. But the Union’s defense made three shocking gaffes that led to goals for Adrien Hunou in the 41st, Robin Lod in the 63rd, and Franco Frangapane in the 67th.
The Union (12-8-10, 46 points) went up a man when Minnesota’s Romain Métanire was sent off in the 77th for throwing the ball in Kai Wagner’s face after a tussle. But the visitors couldn’t find a tying goal, and their six-game unbeaten streak was snapped by the Loons (12-10-8, 44 points).
Here are some observations on the game.
It took 1,098 minutes of play over 21 games across nearly five months for Gazdag to score his first Union goal from open play. Until then, his only tally had come from a penalty kick on Aug. 5.
That is too long to say it was worth the wait. But this goal was fantastic, and it had two crucial aspects.
First, of course, was the timing in the game: four minutes after Hunou’s opener. Second was the fact that it came in a superb combination with Jamiro Monteiro. We have seen precious little good play from the two of them together on the field. This was a long-awaited serving of it.
Will the goal open the gates for Gazdag to fire in more? Well, it only took nine minutes into the second half for him to score again, a header on the goal line after a mishap by South Jersey-born Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
The real answer, of course, is that we won’t know until Gazdag has scored in multiple games. But after getting so much criticism from fans about his lack of offense, he finally showed what he can really do.
Christmas in October
We knew coming into the game that the Union would be short on forwards, and that Jim Curtin was so reluctant to start Matheus Davó that he’d rather push a non-forward into the attack.
Both of those things ended up happening. Davó didn’t start, and Curtin pushed Jamiro Monteiro and Gazdag onto a higher line in a 4-3-2-1 formation — often referred to as a “Christmas tree” lineup.
It was a defensive lineup overall, with Leon Flach, José Andrés Martínez, and Alejandro Bedoya behind Monteiro and Gazdag. And it carried the risk of stranding Kacper Pryzybylko on an island if his teammates didn’t push high.
But the upside was that Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo had even more freedom than usual to get forward, with multiple layers of cover behind them.
The other hint about how the plan would work was found on the bench. If the Union could get into the second half ahead or tied, Curtin could open things up by bringing Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson, or Anthony Fontana off the bench. Or maybe even Davó.
Did it work?
From an attacking perspective, it might have worked better than expected. But the score renders the final verdict, and in that context it failed.
Between this game and Saturday’s 2-2 tie in Montreal, the Union conceded multiple goals in consecutive MLS games for the first time since the first two games of 2020. (They gave up two goals back-to-back at New England and Club América in August, but that’s different.)
Curtin also waited a long time to make any substitutions. The first came in the 74th minute, when Jack McGlynn replaced Flach. Aaronson replaced Martínez in the 84th and Fontana replaced Mbaizo in the 89th.
All of those moves boosted the attack, but none produced a goal.
Those defensive mistakes
All three defensive mistakes were bad: Martínez’s turnover on the first goal, Jakob Glesnes’ slip on the second, and Wagner’s slip on the third.
From here, Martínez’s was the worst of the bunch.
You rarely see the Union get as cute trying to play the ball out of the back as Martínez did there. He had a wide-open runway to clear the ball out of danger, and didn’t take it.
Glesnes and Andre Blake also didn’t look great in their failure to stop Hunou from scoring. But if Martínez had done what he likely knows he should have, the goal wouldn’t have happened, and the Union wouldn’t have been chasing from behind.
Fortunately for the Union, the loss didn’t do as much damage in the standings as it could have. Columbus held Nashville to a 1-1 tie, which means the Union will be able to jump over Nashville into second place with a win Saturday at Subaru Park (7:30 p.m., PHL17).