Fellow Philly soccer fans, welcome to a new series of articles that I will put out after every game where somebody or something in each game changes my mind or gives me a different perspective.
Leg 1 of the CCL quarterfinals is in the bag. The Philadelphia Union fought hard and beat a very dangerous Atlanta United team 3-0. If there’s anything this game showcased, it’s that (much like Inter Miami did in the Union’s building) capitalizing on mistakes is enough to win games regardless of possession time, pass % and shots on net.
The Union were outplayed the entire first half, but the boys in blue (and yellow) persevered, took advantage of a fiery Atlanta United and new Manager Gabriel Heinze’s decision to double down on the attack after falling behind 1-0. Dre played how Dre plays – stellar, newcomers like Flach are giving us hope that they haven’t fallen too far from their 2020 form and we all have reason to look forward to a good year ahead.
But – let’s keep focused here, I want to talk about Santos and how he helped changed my mind.
I have a love/hate relationship with Sergio – the talent is there, the flair is there, the man can score, but his flop-happy style of play kills me (Editor’s note: he was fined by MLS an undisclosed amount for a dive in the box against Inter Miami). The theatrics are one of the areas in the game I’ve never liked. While understanding that it’s a necessary evil in any sport, it takes away from the pace of the game and often times I felt this style of play was selfish while the rest of the team plays on...
Digging deeper, I’m a Philly sports fan and have learned to love the tough, nose-to-the-grind mentality. You win fans in the city by showing you are tough and relentless as this is part of Philly’s blue-collar identity. We’re a city of down-on-our-luck fighters and we embrace the underdogs - and this is NOT how I would have described Santos or his style of play prior to the start of the season.
At halftime Santos came in, and immediately made his presence felt, drawing a yellow card 2 minutes in. I counted four fouls on ATL against Santos alone in 45-ish minutes of play, essentially creating four opportunities for Union to possess the ball. He was jawing at Sosa, and at Guzman and forced bad decisions, hasty passes and undisciplined play from a usually well-orchestrated Five Stripes team.
Beyond that, Santos’ pass game was in full display for goals #2 and #3 - just incredible touch, vision and field awareness to understand where to put the ball to make ATL pay for keeping two backs and almost no midfield presence to speak of late in the game. Those goals don’t happen without him, but we expect those types of plays from him (I do).
Where Santos really won me over when he took Miles Robinson’s elbow to his left cheek bone just under his eye in the 64th minute. After two minutes of struggling to seal up the cut and stop the bleeding, Sergio was screaming at referee Jair Marrufo (who I thought did a great job letting the chippy play continue while maintaining order) to let him back in during a Union counter attack, and was as relentless to the ref as he was to the Atlanta United.
WARNING: picture below is off a bloodied Santos and may offend.
Santos sported his “tough guy” attitude all half, and I can now appreciate his late game flops too, because that’s just what we needed at that time to buy some time and prevent any chance ATL scored late. In recap, no more hate for those who flop (as long as it doesn’t happen too often) – and Sergio Santos, hell of a game to you sir and the rest of The U. In the end, its worth those moments, especially after he showed me that when the going gets tough, Santos shows up.