When Kacper Przybylko scored the Union’s winning goal against Inter Miami in the MLS tournament on July 15, it was his first goal of the year. Unfortunately, it remains his only goal of the year.
Just about every striker in the world hits a cold snap at some point. Przybylko obviously can’t be blamed for going four months without scoring because there were no games in that time. But when a player who scored a team-high 15 goals last year has just one in eight games this year, it gets noticed.
"He recognized it wasn't his best competition" at the tournament, Union manager Jim Curtin said, adding that Przybylko's self-awareness is "actually a step further than most players."
It’s not just that Przybylko isn’t scoring. He’s shooting less, too: 2.20 shots per 90 minutes this year compared to 3.17 last year. He registered four or more shots in a game 10 times last year, and has done so just once this year – the tournament semifinal against Portland.
But Przybylko has still been plenty busy, and in ways that are worth highlighting. The quantifiable way is that he’s averaging 3.75 aerial duels won per game this year, up from 3.1 last year. He has won at least five duels in a game four times this season, after doing so five times all of last season. So he has certainly been involved in the action.
Przybylko has also commanded a ton of attention when he doesn't have the ball, thanks to his stature with the Union. Ilsinho's goal against Orlando City is a great example.
When Brenden Aaronson had the ball on the left wing in the buildup, Przybylko was defended by two Orlando players, and Ilsinho was left alone on the right side. When one of the Orlando players moved to close down Alejandro Bedoya at the top of the 18-yard box, Bedoya passed to Ilsinho, and he was wide open.
Sergio Santos' second goal against Sporting Kansas City is also instructive. As Aaronson brought the ball forward on the right wing, Przybylko made a run from deep in the middle that crossed in front of Aaronson's path. The run drew the attention of three Kansas City players and distracted a fourth. Santos came up the left side in more open space than most Disney World visitors will ever see there.
“I know I have to score more goals, but I think I also do a great job of saving balls, making the runs, opening spaces for my teammates, especially for Sergio,” Przybylko said. “He’s on fire right now. He showed his quality and his skills, especially in front of the goal, in the tournament. And I think this is also an important job for me, just to be there and just take one, two guys, and make space for my teammates.”
Santos has four goals in seven appearances this year, three in the MLS tournament and one back in March at Los Angeles FC. Przybylko believes that opponents might key on the Brazilian more, which would naturally give Przybylko more room to work.
“I’d get the chances now [with] more space,” Przybylko said. “Every team should just be prepared that there are two great strikers who work so good together because we have a great connection. It doesn’t matter if I score goals or he scores goals, we’re still happy that any of us [are] scoring goals.”
Curtin said he has “no worries at all” that Przybylko will find the net again soon.
“It’s time for others to chip in, get him a couple tap-ins, a couple of easy ones that all strikers need to get going,” he said. “It’s up to us as coaches to put him in positions to do it, and then also his teammates around him to get him service. Over his entire career, he’s shown that he’ll score goals, and I have no doubt that he’ll get back on track with that.”