Despite Saturday’s 3-1 Major League Soccer loss to the visiting Portland on Saturday, the Union showed a number of positives.
No, the team isn’t in for moral victories, especially since the loss snapped a six-game unbeaten streak, where the Union went 4-0-2.
The standards are higher this season for a Union team that is 7-4-3 (24 points) and in second place, one point behind D.C. United in the Eastern Conference.
What Saturday showed once again is that the Union are capable of playing an exciting brand of soccer that mirrors a fast-break offense in basketball.
Of course, an entertaining style is one thing, but finishing scoring chances is what will define any top team.
The Union feel they are one of the best teams and their record more than a third into the 34-game season suggests that is the case.
Yet finishing around the goal is what separates the league contenders from the have-nots.
“If we weren’t creating chances, I would sit up here and be a little nervous,” manager Jim Curtin said afterwards. “But we had 18 shots …”
While there were 18 shots, just five were on target.
Still, the Union had plenty of chances, hit a few posts and showed they can play the type of fast-break soccer that is not only entertaining but effective when jelling.
“We’ve got a bunch of players who can run all day and are very fit and can cover ground and we have speed in almost all positions,” said defender Jack Elliott, who hit the post on a first-half head ball. “We feel we can be effective playing fast with anybody.”
This type of fast-paced play can make defenses get out of position quickly. The Union set an all-time club record on Saturday for most passes successfully completed in a single match, 556.
The old record?
That would be 553, which they’ve matched twice: in the previous Saturday’s scoreless draw against Seattle and on May 20, 2017, against Colorado, the Union’s next opponent Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium.
The danger in playing so fast is that a team can be prone to counter attacks. Portland, for long stretches, especially in the second half, played on its heels defensively, but eventually got a few scoring chances and put the game away with a goal in the 87th minute.
Curtin said all three Portland goals were scored on Union mistakes. Portland, which led 2-0 at halftime, got away with sitting back defensively and then striking for the late goal.
“We need to learn to play with teams sitting back against us,” said Elliott, who recently signed a contract extension.
Yes, there is plenty to still learn, but also plenty to work with.
“The game was still on our terms,” Curtin said.