Those who watched the Union’s 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City in the MLS tournament quarterfinals knew they saw something special from Brenden Aaronson. But you might be surprised by how little he was involved in the game overall.
Aaronson wasn’t the only Union player who had a big game Thursday night. Here’s a look at who stood out.
He had just 29 touches, his lowest total of any tournament game so far. He completed just 10 of 14 passes, and his only defensive contribution in the box score was one block.
We know, though, why many European scouts were so impressed with Aaronson’s game. Along with the passes he did make, he took two shots early in the first half that came after some terrific individual moves.
Aaronson has been compared to Ben Simmons by some fans, and it’s not a compliment — it’s about their unwillingness to shoot. On Thursday, Aaronson shook off his hesitation.
Here’s a play that those scouts will remember. In the 33rd minute, Aaronson trapped Andre Blake’s long punt with one touch, beat Kansas City’s Luis Martins off the dribble with a little shimmy, then shot just past the far post.
And of course, there was the pass to Sergio Santos for the Union’s third goal. ESPN’s broadcast captured the play from lots of angles, and they all look good — unless you’re one of the three Sporting players beaten by the pass.
His reputation as a havoc-wreaker is well-earned, but this game showed the Brazilian’s progress with his finishing touch. Santos’ deft chip over Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia was lovely. Just as importantly, while this wasn’t his first two-goal game for the Union, it is the first time he has scored in consecutive games.
Here’s the drone-camera view of Santos’ first goal. Not only was it an outstanding counter-attack, watch how far back Santos comes from to win the race to the ball. The three Union players running with him are, from top to bottom, Jamiro Monteiro, Aaronson and Ray Gaddis:
Some fans criticized the Union captain for not being active enough. Here’s a serving of stats that might change their mind -- Bedoya had 54 touches, fourth-most of any Union player; won six aerial duals; and completed 38 of 47 passes.
And in case you missed it, he had a crucial role in the Union’s opening goal. As ESPN’s Taylor Twellman pointed out during the broadcast, watch Bedoya’s run from the right sideline at midfield to the 6-yard box, where he gets the ball back and squares it for Jamiro Monteiro to score.
How’s this for a box score line: 63 touches, four fouls drawn, three tackles, three interceptions, four clearances (including a bicycle kick after Alan Pulido hit the post with a free kick), and 32-of-42 passing, including 5-of-10 on long balls.
He also did this to Kansas City star Gianluca Busio during the buildup to the opening goal:
Union manager Jim Curtin lavished praised on Gaddis after the game. Here’s why: 57 touches (third-most on the team), five tackles, four clearances, one block, and one chance created. Though Gaddis’ 19-of-29 passing wasn’t great, this first-touch lofted ball to Aaronson was:
Sometimes he’s so quietly effective that he gets overlooked. Elliott had 58 touches in the game, No. 2 on the team, completed 33 of 45 passes, won two aerial duals, and recorded six clearances, one tackle, one interception, and one block.
Since European scouts were watching him as much as Aaronson, let’s note what they saw. McKenzie wasn’t too active, with 43 touches, one tackle and one clearance. But he completed 32 of 37 passes, which the scouts will remember.
There’s been a conversation on Twitter lately around the claim that Andre Blake is playing well, but isn’t actually good. That ignores a lot of his history for both club and country.
Yes, it’s been four years since he won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Yes, his goals-against average last year was his worst since his rookie campaign. Yes, he made fewer saves in 2019 than he did in any of the three prior seasons. But as I wrote back in February, one of the reasons he looked bad last year was the team playing in front of him — especially in central midfield. You don’t need reminding that Martínez is a better defender than Haris Medunjanin.
Also, did you forget that he backstopped Jamaica to the 2017 Gold Cup final and 2019 semifinals, and helped steer the Reggae Boyz to their highest FIFA ranking in 15 years?
He isn’t perfect, of course, especially when it comes to catching crosses. But he’s getting better at that — and it’d help if referees call obstruction properly, which didn’t happen Thursday night.
The Union will probably continue to give up more chances to opponents than you might think they should. That’s not Blake’s fault. It’s a consequence of their counter-pressing style. If the Union’s tactics were to bunker and play slow, would you call Blake worse because he’d have less to do?
Here’s video of the full 15-pass sequence in the Union’s first goal.