1. Daniel Gazdag’s unselfishness makes him one of the best players in MLS
With a hat-trick against Colorado, Gazdag now has 16 goals in MLS this season to pair with 8 assists. His three goals against the Rapids on Saturday night also tied him for the team’s single-season scoring record, set by former Union forward CJ Sapong in 2017. However, Sapong (now with Nashville SC) did so in 33 games, whereas Gazdag needed just 28 games to get to 16.
But the goals alone are not what makes Gazdag so valuable to this Union team, and perhaps the most valuable player in MLS. What sets the Union’s magic man apart is his creativity and willingness to make his teammates better. That was evident when Gazdag handed the ball to Julian Carranza for the penalty kick that resulted in the third goal of the match. Gazdag had every right to take the penalty; he was sitting on a hat-trick, is the team’s top penalty taker, and was chasing the team’s single-season goalscoring record. However, instead he handed the ball to his teammate.
In a post match interview, Coach Jim Curtin commented on “how unselfish he is as a player. I mean the running he’s doing is incredible, the fact that he gives Julian the penalty I was actually pissed about because that shouldn’t happen, that’s Daniel’s penalty kick until he misses one at least. But how unselfish he is to give Julian the PK there. That speaks to his character, he already got his goals.”
Gazdag, in his post game presser, talked about how his confidence led to the decision to hand off the second penalty kick to Carranza.
“Of course I wanted to score a hat-trick already in the first half, but I was sure that I would score another one from the open game so I think it’s better like this.”
Gazdag is brimming with confidence not only in his own abilities to score and create goals, but also in the team. He had both trust and confidence that Carranza would step up and bury his spot kick, and that led to Carranza getting his name on the scoresheet and gaining confidence himself. For the Union to make a deep run in the MLS Playoffs and compete for the MLS Cup, this team will have to have confidence not only in themselves but in all of their brothers on the pitch. It’s safe to say Gazdag’s unselfish mentality exemplifies that perfectly.
2. Andre Blake and the Union backline are impenetrable at their best
Another match, another clean sheet for the Union. While the offense was dominating and scoring goal after goal on one end of the pitch, the Union backline and Andre Blake were quietly putting on a masterclass in defense on the other end. Colorado managed to take just six shots in all 90 minutes Saturday, and only managed to get two of those shots on target. Not to mention, one of the two came from a questionable no-call when Rapids midfielder Collen Warner tugged Andre Blake down on a ball popped into the six before Blake saved Warner’s shot anyways.
It seemed like everytime the Rapids tried to spring a counter or sustain possession, someone in the Union squad thwarted their efforts. Whether it be Jack Elliott’s interceptions, Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo’s stingy 1 v. 1 defending, or Jakob Glesnes’ thundering headers, Colorado could not find a gap to exploit. And while the Union’s excellent defending improves their chances of holding their opponent to a zero on the scoresheet, it also augments and supplements their offensive output. When the Union’s forwards and midfielders know that they are covered behind them, it gives them the security and confidence to try more difficult passes and movements on the other end of the pitch which, with the talent that the Union have on the offensive end, typically results in goals galore.
Having been a central defender in MLS himself, Curtin understands the defensive effort his side must put forward to win games in the league. On the importance of keeping a clean sheet, his message was clear.
“That speaks to the discipline, the hunger, the desire of this group. We started with a good defensive foundation at the beginning of the year, the goals weren’t coming, and now the goals are really coming in bunches. I want to save some, to be honest. But really proud of the team.”
3. Cory Burke, Union substitutions were excellent
The last takeaway and perhaps an afterthought for a lot of those who watched the match on Saturday night, was the performance of the Union substitutions against Colorado. Cory Burke, Paxten Aaronson, Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan and of course goalscorer Matthew Real provided a real spark of energy to the team and helped finish off the win. Burke’s goal in the 87th minute was his seventh of the season, and the Union coaching staff had to be thrilled with his offensive output from the bench. Bringing a guy off the bench who can score and get an assist in under 30 minutes is a luxury that not many teams in MLS have. His potency and threat will surely be a key factor for the Union as they look towards a postseason push.
Paxten Aaronson and Jack McGlynn were also standouts from the reserve group. Aaronson constantly was driving at the Colorado backline and on a more clinical night, might have scored a goal or two himself. McGlynn took the shot that Colorado goalkeeper William Yarbrough spilled on the doorstep for Burke to come in and smash home for the Union’s fifth goal of the game. Having two young talents like them in the middle of the park is another luxury that Curtin has at his disposal.
But the joy of the night for Coach Curtin was the performance and goal from 23-year-old left back Matthew Real.
“I’m happiest for Matt Real because that’s a kid that is an example of this team. Whether you’re number one on the roster or you’re 25 or whatever it might be, all of our guys… are contributing in a big way. Matt Real has worked his ass off every day in training and is a starting left back for 15 to 20 other teams in this league… but he’s kept his mouth shut, he’s put his head down, he’s worked his ass off and I believe it’s not a coincidence that he scores tonight. I believe that is well deserved from Matt, so that speaks to this team. The guys that maybe you guys don’t see on Saturdays and Sundays all the time are in practice every day pushing the starters really, really hard and if they take their foot off the gas a little bit, we’re comfortable to go to them as you guys have seen so it’s really a good group right now but I think that’s a good example of the depth, the hunger of everybody to be part of it, to feel part of it and right now we have a good thing going.”
And with a quick turnaround against Atlanta United on Wednesday and another match on the road against New York Red Bulls on Saturday, the Union may have to rely on some of their reserves heavily. Curtin believes his group is up for the test.