Though they were dominated for much of the game, the Union escaped their visit to the New England Revolution on Saturday night with a 1-1 tie at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
New England’s Gustavo Bou scored first in the 74th minute, with a penalty kick called after MLS’s video replay center spotted a handball by Jack Elliott. Mikael Uhre tied the game three minutes later, just seconds after he entered the game as a substitute.
Here are some observations on what was the Union’s last game until June 18, as MLS goes quiet for the next two weekends while national teams take center stage.
Aaronson at striker?
When the Union (6-1-7, 25 points) posted their starting lineup an hour before kickoff, it showed Paxten Aaronson lining up at a striker position next to Sergio Santos.
This was a bit of a surprise, but the surprise wasn’t that Aaronson was starting. The 18-year-old has earned that. It was where manager Jim Curtin positioned him.
At 5-foot-9 and 139 pounds (on paper), Aaronson is no one’s idea of a striker – not even Curtin’s. But there was a hint that this could happen when Aaronson came into last weekend’s game at Portland. Curtin deployed Aaronson a little higher up the field than would have been the case in the on-paper 4-3-2-1 setup we’ve often seen.
“We played him as kind of an underneath, second striker, and he did a good job,” Curtin said on Thursday. “A little unfair to play him out of position for sure, but it’s what the team needed in that moment being a little bit shorthanded.”
The Union were shorthanded again Saturday, with Julián Carranza suspended due to yellow card accumulation. So Curtin was willing to try it again, and ride it as long as possible until he was ready to send Uhre in from the bench.
The real surprise was that Aaronson stayed in the game after Curtin’s first substitute, which was Cory Burke for Santos in the 57th minute. The Medford native didn’t leave until right after the penalty kick, when he and Leon Flach exited for Uhre and Jack McGlynn.
Did Curtin win his gambles? The Union were outshot, 22-5, including 13-1 in the first half, and were hammered in expected goals: 3.02 to 0.80, including a miniscule 0.06 in the first half.
But at least they got out of town with a point, meaning they’ve still only lost once in this regular season.
How to make up for a mistake
In the 33rd minute, Jakob Glesnes headed a ball backward from the middle of the Union’s half of the field toward Andre Blake, because soccer’s rules bar goalkeepers form catching back passes made with feet. But because Glesnes was facing upfield when he jumped to the ball, he didn’t see Bou waiting to pounce.
Bou duly raced away, with Elliott trying and failing to catch up. As Glesnes ran back, Blake came off his line and did just enough to force Bou wide left. That gave Glesnes enough time to reach Bou, steal the ball, and kick it out of bounds.
How to get away with one
Just under three minutes after that play, New England goalkeeper Matt Turner nearly gave the Union a gift. As he received a throw-in from teammate Brandon Bye, Turner was immediately pressured by Santos, and played a weak first-touch pass that the Union’s Alejandro Bedoya picked off.
Bedoya could have taken a quick shot, but instead passed to Aaronson, who was in a better position to score. Unfortunately, Aaronson was a step late and slipped on the turf, and the ball rolled harmlessly to Turner.
As the two Union players grimaced, any U.S. men’s national team fans watching likely did, too. Turner will be the starting goalkeeper for the Americans’ big set of June games, and his passing is the weakest part of his skill set.
It was a small moment, to be sure, but the spotlight is bright on Turner right now, and it will only get brighter.
And how to not
Don’t be surprised if José Andrés Martínez is suspended by MLS for chest-bumping referee Jon Freemon during second-half stoppage time. Martínez was yellow-carded for that, and the rules allow a bigger punishment if it’s deemed worthy.
A statement beyond the field
Amid a series of mass shootings across the country, all of the Union’s players wore orange shirts in warmups with the message “END GUN VIOLENCE” on the front. Bedoya also wore a black-and-white captain’s armband during the game with the same words.
“Some things are bigger than sports,” Bedoya said after the game, continuing his years-long track record of advocacy on social justice matters.
“We can’t keep standing idly by, just sending thoughts and prayers and seeing words,” he said. “I’m sure they would have much rather had their kids, rather than prayers. ... There needs to be something done with the people in power.”