When the Union left town five weeks ago, one of the key questions they faced was whether they could adapt their high-pressing system to Orlando’s sweltering summer.
The answer proved a resounding yes, and it’s one of the big reasons they reached the semifinals of Major League Soccer’s tournament at Disney World. Indeed, there were stretches during Wednesday night’s semifinal loss to the Portland Timbers when the Union looked more like last year’s possession-oriented team than this year’s overhauled squad.
Ultimately, the Union lost because they couldn’t match the talents of Portland’s Sebastián Blanco, Diego Chará, and Diego Valeri, and because of Sergio Santos’ misssed penalty kick.
Blanco will be the tournament’s MVP if the Timbers win it. Chará is the Timbers’ most-essential player. If MLS had its own Hall of Fame, Valeri would be a first-ballot inductee. And if Santos hadn’t missed, the Union might not have needed the video replay booth’s help when Kacper Przybylko was ruled offside in the closing minutes.
But don’t let all of that overshadow the good soccer the Union played in the tournament. Some of the team’s spells of possession and passing rank among the most stylish of Jim Curtin’s tenure, and perhaps the the team’s history. Watch this sequence from Wednesday night, especially the build-up out of the back amid Portland’s pressing:
Now let’s look at some of the notable individual performances from the game:
He had a respectable 66 touches and one long-range shot on target, and completed 46 of 59 passes — including the terrific one above. But he was neutralized defensively, with just one tackle, two aerial duals won, and zero interceptions, clearances, or blocks.
Though he had some frustrating moments at the end of the night, his game as a whole was very good. He completed 46 of 53 passes, including 17-for-17 in the first half and 9-for-9 in the attacking third. He also registered one tackle, two interceptions, three aerial duals won, two shots, and one chance created.
We saw again why he’s the Union’s most-important player, with a performance that statistically was his best of the tournament. Monteiro’s 89 touches were the most of any player in the game, by a lot. He had four shots, created four chances, had three successful dribbles past opponents, made two interceptions, and completed 55 of 60 passes — a 91.7% success rate. That included 5-for-5 on long balls.
He isn’t the first 19-year-old to be soundly beaten by Chará in a game, and he won’t be the last. Aaronson had 35 touches, completed 16 of 19 passes, created just one chance, and had zero shots, tackles, interceptions, or clearances. But the one time he got free on the left side, he launched one of the Union’s best moves of the night with a run and pinpoint pass to Andrew Wooten.
It took 14 months for the forward to show why the Union signed him, and not just because he scored his first goal in 12 appearances. That one-touch layoff pass to Przybylko was terrific. Wooten created two chances and completed 8 of 9 passes in his 26 minutes as a substitute.
He had the best performance of any Union defender in the game: 72 touches, four aerial duals won, four tackles, four clearances, two tackles, three blocks, and 41-of-56 passing.
There’s no question that his shooting was poor. But his game wasn’t a waste: five aerial duals won, one tackle, one interception, and 15-of-18 passing, along with his five subpar shots.