You don’t have to be a longtime Union fan to know how many games they’ve lost in their 11-year history. You don’t have to have suffered through the heartbreak of the three U.S. Open Cup final defeats, or all the years when the team was just plain bad.
If you watched Saturday night’s 5-0 destruction of MLS-leading Toronto FC at Subaru Park, you saw how good the team is right now. And right now, that’s all that matters.
The win brought the Union level with Toronto atop the Eastern Conference, as both teams have 12-3-5 records and 40 points. The goal difference tiebreaker (+22 to +8) gives the Union first place with three games to go in the season.
Yes, it helped that Toronto was missing some of its top players due to injuries: forwards Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola, midfielders Pablo Piatti and Jonathan Osorio, and defender Chris Mavinga.
But this win shouldn’t carry an asterisk. It was dominant from start to finish. Just ask Toronto’s Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez, two former pillars of the U.S. national team who are pillars of their club. They were hounded all night by Sergio Santos, who scored a hat trick, and by Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie — two players who could be big parts of the U.S.' future.
“It was just about coming out on our home field and putting on a performance that we’re proud of, and we know we can put together,” McKenzie said. “I think we accomplished that, against the top team at the time in the league, and we showed why we deserve to be No. 1.”
Santos opened the scoring in the 27th minute with a pinpoint header off a Kai Wagner cross. José Andrés Martínez started the play with a cross-field pass to spring Wagner, who ran up the open left wing and had ample time to measure his service. Santos outhustled Gonzalez and threw himself at the incoming ball.
McKenzie got the second goal in the 33rd with a close-range header from a corner-kick sequence. Jamiro Monteiro served the ball past the far post, Kacper Przybylko headed it back toward the goalmouth, and McKenzie rose for the finish as Alejandro Bedoya screened a helpless Bradley.
The Union ended the half with 60% of the possession and a whopping 16-1 advantage in shots, including 6-0 in shots on target.
Toronto manager Greg Vanney signaled his frustration by swapping forwards after McKenzie’s goal, sending in Patrick Mullins for the ineffective Erickson Gallardo. There were two more substitutions at halftime: Justin Morrow for Auro at right back and Liam Fraser for Marky Delgado in central midfield.
You’d have expected Toronto to throw the sink at the Union to start the second half, but the Union didn’t let it happen. They kept up their pressure and kept charging downfield, and in the 56th minute Monteiro made it 3-0.
Przybylko started the play with an interception, then passed back toward Aaronson, who knew Monteiro was behind him and let the ball roll through his legs. Monteiro took one touch to settle the ball, then curled a 20-yard shot in off the crossbar. Martínez led the celebrations by hoisting Monteiro on to his shoulders.
Santos got the fourth in the 63rd with a nifty flick past Gonzalez off a cross from Wagner — who you might have figured out by now had an outstanding game. And Santos completed his hat trick in the 68th on a breakaway with Aaronson, who sprung free down the left side and sent his cross in right on time.
The crowd’s ovation continued as Santos left the field a moment later for Cory Burke.
The Union might not keep first place the rest of the way, with a trip to third-place Columbus coming next weekend. There’s also a Wednesday home game coming against Chicago that Monteiro will miss due to yellow card accumulation.
But this win left no doubt that the Union are serious championship contenders this year.
In the end, the Union outshot Toronto, 27-3, including 12-1 in shots on goal, out-possessed the Reds and outpassed them, too.
“This is a fun team,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Couldn’t be more proud of the players … I thought it was one of our most complete 90 minutes, at a good time of the year.”