After a slow start in the group stages of the MLS is Back Tournament, Philadelphia Union forward Sergio Santos has exploded the last two matches to put in arguably his best back-to-back performances since joining the team before the 2019 season.
He has three goals and an assist over the last two knockout matches, two of those of the game-winning variety. His winner against New England Revolution earned MLS Goal of the Week and he should be in the running again with his counter attack goal the 26th minute against Sporting Kansas City on Thursday.
After flashing his ability to absorb pressure and still get the ball off for a pass into the box to Alejandro Bedoya that set up an easy finish for Jamiro Monteiro in the 24th minute, Santos was off to the races on a counter attack two minutes later from an SKC free kick and second later chipping the ball over Tim Melia to double the lead.
The play started way back in the back when Kai Wagner headed the free kick attempt out to the edge of the 18 where Ray Gaddis did well to get to the second ball with his head and push it further out of harm’s way. The ball fell to Luis Martins, who inexplicably opted to tap the ball into no man’s land. Jamiro Monteiro deserves a mention for closing down the most likely release valve there, but Martins’ pass was so poor Graham Zusi in full sprint didn’t stand a chance to beat Santos to it.
For his part, Santos was probably licking his chops at the chance open up and dust the veteran Zusi before collecting the ball near midfield and beginning a one-man counter attacking show with an intentionally big touch forward to himself. If ever self assists would be deserved, it was on this play.
That second ball header from Ray Gaddis was so good Martins forgot what team he was playing for pic.twitter.com/w7Hg3nL7Oe— Brotherly Game (@BrotherlyGame) July 31, 2020
We’ve seen this type of one-man counter attack from Santos before, of course, last June when Santos made a 60-yard run with the ball only to just miss wide of the far on the shot attempt. This time rather than try to find a corner from distance, Santos was able to slow himself down, collect his feet and chip Tim Melia with a hit that is far more difficult than it looked after the dogged run he had just made.
“What he did really well was take a big first touch that let him be able to open up his legs and separate, and then to combine the speed that he has and the power, but then also the finesse to slow your body down, make the right decision and just dink it over the goalkeeper is a really special finish,” head coach Jim Curtin said of the goal.
Santos completed his second brace in a Union uniform 13 minutes later with a first-time left-footed finish off a pass so filthy from Brenden Aaronson the Brazilian said through a translator that it “made it easy” for him. He scored twice in a five-minute span against New England off the bench last May for his other MLS brace. Though the goals from the knockout rounds don’t count for regular season stats, the 25-year-old has now equaled his goal output from 2019 with four goals in six games in all competitions in 2020.
“What you saw tonight is just how much he can change a game,” Curtin said of Santos. “You can’t teach speed, you can’t teach decision-making on breakaways, and his ability to stretch defenses is really good.”
You also can’t teach style, which Santos also showed plenty of again with the moves he flashed celebrating with Jose Martinez.
While the group stage didn’t produce the kind of breakout moments many were expecting from Santos, he’s successfully erased any doubt of his place in the starting XI with his recent turn of form, which has come just in time for a team now two wins away from hoisting a trophy and booking a Champions League spot for the first time in franchise history.