Many fans missed it because it happened after midnight, but one of the iconic moments of the 2018 season came when Fafa Picault grabbed a late winner to beat Seattle Sounders last September.
Picault pounced on a slightly errant ball from Stefan Frei with a burst of speed and seconds later he was putting the ball in the back of the net to lead the Union to an unlikely three points in the middle of the night.
The goal was significant for the team at the time in the thick of the playoff race and ended up being one of seven the pacy attacker scored on the season away from home. In two seasons with the Union, 10 of his 17 goals have been scored on the road.
The goal in Seattle illustrates a few qualities in the approach the team has shifted to under new Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. Tanner wants to see players making opponents uncomfortable by hunting the ball and forcing mistakes in the opponent’s final third that produce quick transitions into scoring opportunities.
A week into the season, the Union are still searching for that first goal from open play after a 3-1 loss to Toronto FC where Marco Fabián had the lone goal from the penalty spot. Picault had one of the better chances in the match to find the back of the net on a rocketed ball from Ilsinho he wasn’t able to redirect on frame.
But the 28-year-old is confident that the goals will come under the new system and formation that has him playing as a forward in the 4-4-2 instead of as a wide player as he was his first two seasons in Chester.
“It’s different obviously,” Picault said in a recent interview about the formation switch. “But the important thing is to get used to it. It’s soccer. You don’t overcomplicate it.”
While Picault and Cory Burke carried a hefty load in the goal-scoring department last season with 10 goals each — particularly with CJ Sapong and David Accam having down years in that department — the additions of Sergio Santos and Fabián should lessen the pressure on any one player to score.
“I think we have some good players as well as a good chemistry, which is key, good locker room, good group,” Picault said. “It’s just going to take us gelling with the new faces and new players and different styles to get together. It’s going to take a few games, it’s not going to be boom right away win every game.”
While Bořek Dočkal’s play — he led the league in assists with 18 — was key to unlocking both Burke and Picault, Picault expects even more of an impact from the Union’s new designated player, who he said he got along with from day one and with whom he shares some mutual friends.
“I will say that I think even more will come from him and it’s not just about stats and assists,” Picault said. “It’s moreso the actual game play.”
When Sapong was traded to the Chicago Fire late in preseason, Picault had to say goodbye to one of his closer friends on the team but in the process became the longest tenured forward among the five currently on the first team roster.
He’s also by now become a fan favorite for the way he plays, especially with the way he dances when he celebrates a goal.
“Hopefully I’ll have plenty more of those this year,” he said.