After not being satisfied with how his team played in its two wins during the MLS tournament group stage, Union manager Jim Curtin was surprisingly satisfied with his players’ performance in Monday’s 1-1 tie with Orlando City.
You might be surprised, too, since the game was there for the taking -- right up to the last-minute handball by Orlando’s Ruan that surprisingly went uncalled. (Just about everyone watching on TV, including the ESPN and Univision announcing crews, thought it was clear.)
But Curtin and his players judged this game on more than just the points dropped, even if everyone else didn't, and it's pretty clear why.
The Union had their best attacking game of the tournament so far, creating nine chances after creating five against Inter Miami and six against New York City FC. Their overall passing game was also much better: an 83% completion rate compared to 74% vs. Miami and 78% vs. New York.
While the Union rest up for Saturday’s round-of-16 game against the New England Revolution (10:30 p.m., ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, let’s look at a few notable individual performances against Orlando.
He had a team-high 70 touches against Orlando and completed a team-best 41 of 49 passes. That’s much better than his performance against Inter Miami, and much closer to the dominance on the ball that the Union need. Monteiro also recorded his first two shots on goal of the tournament and had four tackles and an interception.
The Medford, N.J., native drew another round of raves, even though his 41 touches and 16-of-19 passes weren’t big numbers. He had two shots, created one chance, and threw in two tackles, one interception, and one clearance.
Just before Monday’s game kicked off, the global soccer news and stats website Transfermarkt.com reported that Aaronson has drawn interest from three big teams in Germany’s Bundesliga: TSG Hoffenheim, Freiburg, and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Hoffenheim knows the Union well, as it is the former home of sporting director Ernst Tanner and ex-midfielder Zach Pfeffer. Freiburg is the former home of Coatesville-born goalkeeper Zack Steffen (and other Americans), and Mönchengladbach is the current home of U.S. veteran Fabian Johnson.
Watch Aaronson's run that helped set up the Union's goal Monday night and you'll see more proof of why European scouts are paying attention:
Replacing the suspended José Andrés Martínez in the starting lineup, Creavalle got some criticism from fans for not being as active of a defensive midfielder. But you knew that about him already, so you shouldn't have been surprised.
But he had a pretty active game in his own right: four interceptions, three clearances, one tackle, 20-of-23 passing, and a big role in the build-up to that goal.
He had a team-high three shots in the game, won three aerial duals, created one chance, delivered three tackles, and completed 12 of 15 passes. But he hasn't scored yet in the tournament, which is what he gets judged by most.
It’s understandable that Curtin has been bringing Ilsinho off the bench for Santos. The Brazilian-for-Brazilian swap brings Ilsinho’s superb individual dynamism and lets the Union subtly shift from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-3-3. It also matters that Andrew Wooten’s leg strain is still just enough of an issue to keep him from playing.
Still, it’s fair to think the Union’s odds of a good run in the knockout stages will go way up if Santos can stick the ball in the net -- as he could have at the end of this terrific 18-pass sequence late in the first half:
The Union’s captain had 60 touches, and tied with Kacper Przyblko for the team-high in scoring chances with three. But what stood out most were a few truths he told in his postgame news conference.
"I think there's things we need to continue to work on, but all things considered, you take everything with a grain of salt," he said. "It's been four months since we played a competitive game, and here we are playing in Orlando at 9 a.m., 10:30 p.m., in the heat and humidity."