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Union front three key to postseason hope



Photo by Carl Gulbish

When the Union put up a three spot to open the first half against Atlanta last week, it was their first real explosive outburst since a September 3rd route of the New York Red Bulls. To be fair, the Red Bulls were down a man the entire second half, so against an in-form Atlanta squad, the Union’s first half made a strong statement that they haven’t forgotten how to
dismantle a defense.

They also showed fatigue in allowing Atlanta back into the game to eek out a 3-2 win, but the front three hitting the target was a big moment for the Union with the playoffs approaching.

The Atlanta game was especially positive for Mikael Uhre, who scored his first goal since the 3-1 win over D.C. United in early August. His seven-game goal drought put him in the negative spotlight heading down the stretch for his underwhelming performances.

The last time Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, and Uhre scored in the same game was the 4-1 win over Atlanta last August. They also scored against D.C. in a 6-0 win earlier that month and against Houston in a 6-0 win late July during one of the best offensive stretches in club and league history.

The Union also scored three goals in a half against D.C. after Leagues Cup, against Queretaro in Leagues Cup, against Inter Miami before Leagues Cup, and against New England in May. What separates the most recent three-goal half outburst from the rest may have been that all of the goals came from open play and revived a creative spark that had been lacking in preceding games.

The Union were particularly effective in transition, with Uhre’s goal the best example of the Union’s patience while attacking on the counter.

The most noticeable difference in the goal, which was similar to several other attacks prior, started with Uhre’s positioning in front of the center backs. There have been countless times this season where the Union have won a ball and immediately fired over Uhre’s head into space, leading to a 50-50 footrace, sometimes a 25-75, and eventually losing possession.
This counter was more patient and strategic, and not only did Uhre find the ball at his feet once, but he found it again on the entry pass from Carranza before using his skill to create enough room to fire a shot through the legs of Luis Abram and beyond Brad Guzan’s limited reach.

“We go as the front two go,” Union coach Jim Curtin said after the game. “They set the tone. If they go, the other eight will follow.”

Curtin was also pleased with the patience of his team’s transition game in the first half. “Part of it is styles,” he said. “the 4-2-3-1 is one of the better matchups for our diamond because the space is on the side where McGlynn was getting the ball and Ale was getting on the ball, in the first half in particular, with nobody really near them, and they can kind of dictate things.”

The last Union counter goal came off the foot of Quinn Sullivan against FC Dallas the week before, and four games earlier Gazdag scored on a counter to finish off the Red Bulls in early September.

“On the transitions, when we broke, the biggest thing is we held the first ball. That is everything, where in previous games it was kind of 50-50, sometimes we lose it, and when you lose a transition then your counter attack gets countered, and that’s really dangerous because that’s a moment where you’re open.”

Gazdag opened the scoring with a beautiful finish on a quick restart started by Uhre. He then combined with Carranza on the third goal, a goal Curtin called his favorite of the night. Gazdag scored his 14 th goal of the MLS season, adding his 11 th assist. His 25 goal contributions are tied with Hany Mukhtar (15g, 10a), Cristian Espinoza (12g, 13a), and Carles Gil (11g, 14a).

With one game remaining, he trails the top goal contributors by three or less:

Lucho Acosta (19g, 7a)
Thiago Almada (11g, 17a)
Denis Bouanga (19g, 7a)
Cucho Hernandez (15g, 11a)

Gazdag is the only player on this list who’s not a nominee for Player of the Year and also the only player on the list not to be included on the MLS All-Star roster.

“In the first half, we did good,” Gazdag said after the game about the Union’s transitions. “All the transition balls that we tried to play to me or one of the strikers and lay off to me, and it worked out good in the first half, but in the second half we kicked too many balls just behind the defenders.”

Uhre’s goal was especially important. His 9th of the league season was his first in 8 games, and only his fourth since the start of July. So there has been a correlation between Uhre’s production and the Union’s offensive play, and though it’s not all on his shoulders, last Wednesday was an example that he can still be the main man.

“We showed tonight that when we’re on point, it’s pretty good,” he said. “We’re always trying to find each other and put each other in good positions and that worked out pretty well tonight.”

With one game remaining in the regular season and a potential home matchup against Atlanta, Columbus, or New England in the best-of-three format of the first round, the Union will need to be more than just a stout defensive team to return to the MLS Cup. And though they failed to score against a good defensive Nashville side Saturday night, the finale against New England at Gillette Stadium will be the last test for the Union to show they can get the attack on track before the playoff pressure mounts.

Greg Oldfield is a teacher, coach, and writer from the Philadelphia area. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in Barrelhouse, Maudlin House, Carve, and the Under Review, among others. He also writes for the Florida Cup and Florida Citrus Sports. In 2023, he received an award for Best Column from the United Soccer Coaches for his story "A Philadelphia Soccer Hollywood Story." His work can also be found at

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