Jack Elliott is well-accustomed to being one of the Union’s iron men. He’s one of three players to have played every minute of all nine games so far this year — goalkeeper Andre Blake and Jamiro Monteiro are the others — and he has done so with his usual mix of skill, efficiency, and quiet determination.
The streak looked like it was in jeopardy in the third minute of Saturday’s 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, when Elliott got in a collision with Blake and New York’s Cristian Cásseres Jr. As Blake went up to catch a ball in the air just off his goal line, Cásseres came forward and got in Blake’s way. Kai Wagner and Elliott were there, too. Blake came down on top of Elliott, including a trailing knee that caught the centerback in the head.
Both Union players stayed down for nearly three minutes, and Elliott held his head for a while. He was taken off the field and given a concussion test by Union medical staff behind the end line.
As bad as it looked, Elliott ended up being fine. He was back on the field about a minute-and-a-half after he left it, and for the rest of the night didn’t show any symptoms of damage.
“Obviously there was a bit of a sandwich,” Elliott said of the collision in his typically understated style. “I was checked out on the pitch, checked out after the game, and it’s all good.”
Elliott ended up being one of the Union’s best players in the game. He recorded 41 touches, six recoveries, five duels won, three clearances, two tackles, and 20-of-30 passing. He even registered two shots from headers off set pieces.
“We just defended well and didn’t really let them get shots inside the box,” he said. “It’s a credit to everyone defending and playing together, and really finishing off with a lot of energy.”
Elliott may not have been looking for individual accolades, but he’s getting them anyway. Especially when it comes to his passing skills, which were important against the Red Bulls’ high press.
Though he was officially 5-of-11 on long balls, he didn’t have to complete them all as long as he got the ball out of the Union’s end before opposing players could force turnovers. He did that often, and Union manager Jim Curtin was very happy.
“I thought Jack hit 12, 13 of those balls almost perfectly under pressure,” Curtin said. “That really lets us breathe and gives us time and space to move our group forward.”
Curtin paid the same compliment to fellow centerback Jakob Glesnes, saying that the duo “can pass as good as anyone in the league.”
They also showed their flexibility in how they defend different types of players when New York swapped strikers at halftime. Out went 6-foot-4 Brazilian target man Fábio, in came craftier 6-foot Poland native Patryk Klimala. He showed hints of why the Red Bulls made him a Designated Player with a $2.2 million transfer fee, but Elliott and Glesnes were able to keep him off the scoresheet.
“No matter who they play against, they can adapt and adjust their game,” Curtin said. “If it’s speedy, fast forwards, they have a really good understanding of stepping and dropping together. If it becomes physical like tonight, with Fábio, who’s a bigger target striker, they can jump and challenge and win second balls with him.”
Now Elliott and Glesnes get to adapt to something they haven’t faced: a full week until their next game. That hasn’t happened since the two legs of the Champions League round of 16 series against Saprissa that started the season. Even when the Union didn’t have a midweek game between their first two regular-season contests in April, they went from playing on a Sunday to playing on a Saturday.
The two centerbacks and their teammates have fully earned some time off.