Three consecutive clean sheets were worth pizza and beer for the Philadelphia Union back line as promised by manager Jim Curtin.
‘’My wallet gets a little lighter but that’s okay because those guys earned it and they deserve it,” Curtin said following a 2-0 victory against Charlotte FC on Saturday, making it a fourth straight win for his side as they remain unbeaten this season.
As deserving of pizza and beer as the back line is, the simplest of minds will tell you that a win is impossible by simply defending. Looking at numbers, the Union have managed 10 goals in just five games, one name that hasn’t been among the goal-scorers but has been crucial in the final third; Sergio Santos.
Santos has been a kind of unsung hero of what is looking like an ambitious and very promising Philly side as the season continues to roll on. Santos has two assists and has proven instrumental to the team’s attack. A player that does the ‘’dirty work’’ if you will. Despite having yet to find a net, he is an ever threatening weapon to the opponent’s defense. Lined up most of the time with a strike partner, his selflessness and work ethic might just put him on a high amongst the four center forwards Curtin gets to pick and choose from.
‘’So important,” was how the gaffer described him after Saturday’s win.
Pace, strength, awareness and an eye for goal are the ingredients for the deadly striker. Santos manages to bully defenses, puts them out of position, and sets teammates up perfectly.
‘’You can’t teach speed and he has speed and power that you saw tonight. It just gives defenses problems,” Curtin said. “It makes them drop deeper and deeper as the game goes on. It creates space for others just by stretching every time he backs into somebody and so powerful that he can turn.
“If he was an NFL or NBA player, you would call him a playmaker,” Curtin continued. “Things happen when he’s on the field that help your team. He’s unorthodox. He’s hard to cover and I’m really proud of how hard he’s working against the ball too, defensively.’’
Curtin said he isn’t too worried about Santos’ goal tally: ‘’I have no
concern that he hasn’t scored. But he’s been a big part of a lot of the goals that we’ve scored. He deserves multiple goals. His (disallowed) goal against New York City, I still watch that back 100 times I think it’s a good goal. But yeah, he’ll get rewarded with the goal at some point here.’’
He might not be scoring but he certainly pushes the team forward in his own way: ‘’The chances he’s creating, the number of assists that he has, the work rate defensively, all excellent. And at the end of the day, I think that if you keep doing things the right way, like he is, eventually the floodgates will open and he’ll start to really hit the back of the net.’’
Curtin was particularly satisfied with the opening goal as a long pass behind the defense from left back Kai Wagner found Santos on the side of the box, teeing up Julian Carranza to finish it. Three touches was all it took, for the ball to leave the defensive third and meet the net.
‘’If you could draw up a Philadelphia Union goal, that would be the one that excites me the most,” Curtin said. “That’s perfect for me.’’
Indeed it was, ‘’It’s like blind understanding,’’ was how Wagner described the telepathy between him and Santos.
‘’Me and Sergio have been together for a long time, four years now at this club. I always talk to him about making his run when I have the ball. He knows that I can hit the ball.”
‘’Sometimes it’s easy to just kick the ball forward but it doesn’t have to be just a blind pass forward.
‘’Our partnership is really good.’’