Union fans are understandably annoyed with the team’s form lately.
But some of those fans may have forgotten how shorthanded the Union were in those games, and not just because of goalkeeper Andre Blake being at the Gold Cup.
The team has played its last four games with just two available strikers, Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos. Cory Burke was away with Blake on Jamaica’s Gold Cup team. Anthony Fontana has missed seven games because of a concussion. Jack de Vries has missed the entire season because of concussion aftereffects, and if he goes to Italy’s Venezia on loan this summer, he won’t play for the Union again before he leaves.
For a team whose base formation has two strikers on the field at all times, that’s not sustainable.
The Union’s tactical flexibility was also hindered by Ilsinho’s two-month absence after groin surgery, which took away the top tool for late-game formation changes from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1.
It wasn’t a coincidence that three minutes after Ilsinho returned to the field Sunday night, the Union pulled Miami’s defense apart and scored a goal.
This week, the Union will get Burke back thanks to the United States’ elimination of Jamaica in the Gold Cup quarterfinals late Sunday night. (Blake will be back, too, though right back Alvas Powell could be sidelined with an injury suffered during Sunday’s first half.) Fontana is also on track to be available again.
There might also be reinforcements coming from abroad. Brazilian media conglomerate Globo and other outlets in that country reported last week that the Union are finalizing a deal to sign 21-year-old striker Matheus Davó on loan from famed São Paulo club Corinthians for the rest of the year. Davó has recently been on loan at Brazilian second-division club Guarani, with two goals and three assists in 14 games this year.
Of course Blake matters a lot, and Quinn Sullivan showed again Sunday night that he has earned more playing time. But for as much as Sullivan can run at tired opposing defenders late in games, he doesn’t do so from the front line of the attack -- nor should he, because he should be playing in midfield.
Nor should Dániel Gazdag have to be repeatedly shoehorned into the second forward position to take up minutes when Santos isn’t on the field. He has the skill set, but shouldn’t have to do it as often as he has so far.
“We had to rotate and maybe play guys out of position over the last stretch,” Union manager Jim Curtin said after Sunday’s game. “I thought Daniel still put in a really good shift as a second striker. Is it his ideal position? No. But based on the matchups, based on the fresh legs that we had, we thought this was the best way.”
Curtin was just as direct in addressing why it had to happen.
“If we start Sergio there, and [he] maybe runs out of gas at 60 [minutes], then we’re in big trouble where we don’t have any true strikers to bring in to change the game -- if we’re winning or down a goal,” he said. “So, overall, we managed it as best we could.”
That was all that needed to be said, because the point is simple: Playing forward should be a forward’s job. Now the Union can get back to that.