By now you’ve probably had a few cups of coffee and settled into your day satisfied with three more points for the Philadelphia Union and a guaranteed spot in the Round of 16.
The Union won 2-1 over Inter Miami to put themselves not only in a position to win Group A but also with seven points out of 12 in the league standings whatever those end up meaning come the fall.
That they won while not playing their best soccer (again) is another tell that they may really just be the team we hoped they were before Covid-19 put everything on hold.
Here are the the three things that stood out to me last night/early this morning.
Sergio Santos Frustrated Everyone Including Himself
Santos was a guy a lot of us pegged as primed for a breakout in this little tournament in Florida but a knock in training last week sent him off course and while he was only expected to put in a 30-45-minute shift on Thursday night it was one he’ll largely want to put behind him.
While he was involved and around the ball, his chance creation just wasn’t there and while his job is to harass and frustrate defenses into making mistakes in the back that he can pounce on for easy chances and goals, he ended up mostly just frustrating everyone last night. Four fouls, one cross and zeros in shots and tackles isn’t a great stat line for him.
Had he had Andrew Wooten available or Cory Burke back in the squad, head coach Jim Curtin could have more effectively used Santos as a sub, which still seems to be his best spot in the team through the early stage of his time in MLS. But for now, he has some work to do for Monday.
The Union Aren’t Playing Their Best Soccer (and That’s a Good Thing)
Going into the MLS is Back Tournament there were plenty of reasons to feel confident about the Union’s chances of not only advancing to the knockouts but making a run beyond the Round of 16. The first two games have done little to shake that confidence but listening to an unsatisfied Curtin talking after the match about all the things the team didn’t do right — in part a credit to a Miami team that came in with a sound game plan — it’s clear this team isn’t in Florida to win a couple games and hop a charter home full of what ifs.
Winning games when they could have and maybe should have dropped points — as they have in both games — is how you lay the foundation for a deep run and how the trust in each other as a team and belief in the greater goal can come into focus. This team has talked so much over the last 18 months about this “next man up” mentality and picking each other when they are down it’s become cliche but it’s impossible to deny that we’ve seen that so far in Florida.
Beat them one way or frustrate one player and another will step up. If it takes a deflected goal from a left back, a weirdly delayed VAR overturn on a phantom handball, Andre Blake dressing up like a brick wall again and Kacper to keep shooting no matter how many times they get the offside call wrong then so be it.
Jamiro Monteiro Really is a Superhero
Several weeks ago in the thick of the shutdown we had a Marvel Week where we talked about superheroes and Monteiro unsurprisingly was compared to Ant-Man because of his size and his ability to stealthily save the day. He did just that on Thursday night without ever touching the ball in the run-up to Kacper’s game-winner. He not once but twice drew attention from defenders on the counter only to pull a Lucy and lift his leg over the ball to let it run and eventually wind up in the path of Kacper for the striker’s goal.
I’ve heard the complaints and even shared some frustration with Miro over the first two games when he hasn’t been as involved as it seems a star midfielder should be, but there still isn’t a player on the roster who does more without touching the ball than him. His pressure that led to Kacper’s equalizer last season in Vancouver had to date been my one of favorite plays he’s made in a Union uniform, again without touching the ball, but his two dummies last night are going to be hard to top. It kind of makes me want to start a band and name it Miro and the Two Dummies.
What were your takeaways from last night/this morning? Share them in the comments.