For almost an hour Wednesday night, the Union’s attack was stuck in another rut. But led by Ilsinho and Brenden Aaronson, the team rose to life and ended up rolling over FC Cincinnati, 3-0, at Subaru Park.
With stalwart defensive midfielder José Andrés Martínez unavailable until the end of the month, manager Jim Curtin made a major tactical shift: a 4-2-3-1 starting lineup with Jamiro Monteiro and Alejandro Bedoya as the deep midfield pair, and Sergio Santos, Anthony Fontana and Brenden Aaronson as the trio from left to right. Yes, that put Aaronson on the opposite side of the field from where he usually plays when he’s used as a wniger.
“When your morning starts with a text message from the head coach on a group text that we’re changing formations and changing personnel, that’s certainly something that’s never happened before,” Curtin said. “No matter what adversity seems to hit this team, the next man steps up. If I ask them to play different positions, if I ask them to change formations, the mindset and the mentality is we’ll do anything to get three points."
The setup didn’t produce much in the first half-hour, save for an Aaronson breakaway in the 25th minute that fizzled when he took too many touches. Fontana had the Union’s best look of the half in the 39th with a shot that Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton dove to tip off his crossbar.
Cincinnati’s best chance came late in stoppage time when former U.S. national team prospect Joe Gyau thumped a shot that Andre Blake punched out at full stretch.
Curtin was forced into a substitution at halftime after Jakob Glesnes took some big hits, including a head-to-head collision with Mark McKenzie early in the half. Jack Elliott replaced him for his first game action since Sept. 3.
Ilsinho replaced Fontana in the 53rd minute, taking the right wing and moving Aaronson to his traditional place in the center. And Ilsinho produced a goal six minutes later when his shot off a cleared cross took a flukish deflection off Maikel van der Werff.
No one in blue and gold minded the aesthetics. It was the first goal of the year in any game between these teams, after an even uglier scoreless tie in Cincinnati on Sept. 24.
Warren Creavalle was next to enter, and at a needed time. Cincinnati had been on the front foot for a few minutes when he stood by the scorer’s table in the 73rd minute. But right before he came in, Bedoya doubled the Union’s lead with a great goal.
Aaronson set it up by breaking free down the left, and the Medford native put his cross to the Union’s captain right on the money. Bedoya trapped it with his first touch, then thumped a shot with his second to send a message that he was done with this game being close.
Creavalle then replaced Santos, moving Monteiro forward and Aaronson to the left. That meant Aaronson played all three positions on the attacking midfield line over the course of the game — and he spent a few minutes in a deeper role next to Creavalle, too.
Any final questions were answered in the 80th. Monteiro drew a foul on the right side, served the ensuing free kick, and Elliott headed it in with a backward flick over Tyton.
“We knew coming out from hafltime that it was going to be a tough end to the game, but we knew that this is a must-win game for us,” Elliott said. “We did bring that little bit extra in the second half and got the three goals and finished off the game. That’s a credit to the whole team.”
The win, combined with Montreal’s upset of Columbus, lifted the Union (9-3-4, 31 points) into a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference.
“On a night when the soccer’s not perfect … we stuck with it. We got our goal. The game opened up a bit, and we were pretty ruthless in getting the next two,” Curtin said. “Our job is to take whatever players we have available and get results, and we found a way to do that tonight.”