Union manager Jim Curtin wasn’t thrilled by his team’s performance in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Inter Miami, despite the final score.
“Not our best night in terms of how we want to play, keeping the ball, playing forward, winning the transition game,” he said in a postgame news conference that started at nearly 1 a.m., thanks to the late-night kickoff. “We weren’t ourselves, which is disappointing.”
Really? Fans were enthralled by the game and its pretty goals, especially the Union’s brilliant counter-attacking charge for the winner.
But Curtin’s players agreed with him.
“It wasn’t our best game, it was kind of frustrating,” midfielder Brenden Aaronson said. “We need to improve in some aspects of just playing simple. … The game was for sure entertaining, but it wasn’t entertaining for us.”
From the outside, you could see the moments when the team didn’t pass the eye test — especially early in the second half, when Miami’s 3-4-3 formation jammed the Union’s midfield. The box score also hints at what Curtin and Aaronson were talking about.
Of the Union’s 380 attempted passes, nearly twice as many were in the middle third of the field (223) as the attacking third (116). Aaronson touched the ball just 34 times, and midfielder Jamiro Monteiro had just 41 touches — his lowest total by far in four games this year.
When they aren’t on the ball, they aren’t setting up scoring chances. Monteiro attempted just 28 passes , completing 23; Aaronson attempted a meager 17, completing 14.
And while both players were involved in both goals, some of their other attacks were frustrating. The best example came in the 60th minute, when they ran into each other in the 18-yard box and blew a golden chance to score.
Curtin gave Aaronson some tough love after the game. The Medford native has won raves from across MLS, and is still just 19. His coach sees the player’s full potential and knows the bar must be set high.
“If he’s going to make it as a No. 10 at the very highest level, and that’s the ultimate goal for him, he’s going to do it by being a volume player — a player that’s on the ball all the time,” Curtin said. “He might make a mistake three or four times, but he’s coming again at full speed. … We’re going to be greedy, and we’re going to push and demand more of him, because he can play even better than he did tonight.”
Three minutes after the mishap, Aaronson helped produce the game’s signature moment. The counter-attack goal that Kacper Przybylko finished was sensational: fast, precise, and as Przybylko noted, defined as much by Monteiro’s selflessness as by Aaronson’s run and the big striker’s shot.
The soccer term for Monteiro’s feints is a verb “to dummy,” and he did it twice in the play, first letting Ilsinho’s end-line clearance go to Aaronson, then letting Aaronson’s cross-field pass go to Przybylko.
“You see the movement of Jamiro, that he’s leaving the ball between his legs, Brenden takes a good touch, and then you see again that Jamiro was so unselfish and left the ball for me so I could finish,” Przybylko said. “It’s just the quality of the whole team.”
There wasn’t enough quality on the night as a whole, but there was a full measure in that moment.
Next up for the Union is the group stage finale against group leader Orlando City on Monday (8 p.m., TUDN and Twitter). Both teams are 2-0-0, with Orlando having the goal-difference tiebreaker (+3 to +2).
This Orlando team seems to be much better than the perennial underachiever it’s been. New manager Oscar Pareja, long one of the best coaches in MLS, has pushed the right buttons — especially with attackers Chris Mueller and Nani.