Union begin continental campaign with a bang

A 5-0 aggregate win against Costa Rica’s best team shows that the Union haven’t lost a step.

The+Unions+newest+signing%2C+Daniel+Gazdag%2C+is+likely+to+be+an+impact+player+who+can+fill+in+the+shoes+of+Brenden+Aaronson.+

Joseph Loverdi

The Union’s newest signing, Daniel Gazdag, is likely to be an impact player who can fill in the shoes of Brenden Aaronson.

The Union’s continental adventure began on April 7, as they traveled to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. There, they were to take on Costa Rican champions (and the country’s most well known club) Deportivo Saprissa in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16. It was an eventful first leg to say the least.

 Jim Curtin sent out a familiar lineup in his favored 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation, with Leon Flach coming in for his first start (and official match) with the club, Olivier Mbaizo starting at right-back (the spot is his to lose), and Anthony Fontana pushed up to striker instead of playing his favored attacking mid position. Meanwhile, Saprissa lined up in a 5-3-2, with their two  notable players being longtime MLS center back Kendall Waston and center midfielder Christian Bolanos, known for stints in Denmark and the MLS. 

 The game was tight and filled with the stereotypical Latin/South American aggression seen from teams like Saprissa, who weren’t afraid to get stuck in with the tackle (the game featured 26 fouls). However, this didn’t scare off a tough and resilient Union side who only had 5 shots to Saprissa’s 16; the defense, especially Kai Wagner and Andre Blake, were very, very impressive in blocking shots, making big tackles and clearances, or huge saves. And in the 34th minute, the Union got a key away goal.

 Olivier Mbaizo made a searching run down the right wing and whipped in one of the most perfect crosses I’ve ever seen. All Kacper Przybylko had to do was run on to it and nod it past Saprissa keeper Aaron Cruz to put the Union ahead 1-0, a lead they would keep for the remainder of the game. 

 However, a skirmish late on led to a full-on brawl (sort of). Kai Wagner, solid all game, was making a run with the ball in the Union half when his counterpart Ricardo Blanco sprinted what looked like 20 yards and two-footed him in what was one of the worst tackles I’ve ever seen. Blanco was only given a YELLOW, and the two teams began to converge after Jakob Glesnes shoved him following the tackle. The resulting scuffle saw Glesnes, Jamiro Monteiro, and 2 Saprissa players booked.

 So the second leg, the Union’s long-awaited return to Subaru Park, was set to be another chippy game with many Union fans online talking of possible revenge against Blanco. That didn’t happen. Instead, what we saw on April 14 was one of the best games I’ve ever seen the Union play and one that fills me with immense hope heading into the season.

 The first half was like the first leg; close with no real action besides another bad tackle from a Saprissa player, namely center midfielder Jedwin Lester. Despite this, the Union showed some great build-up play with Olivier Mbaizo continuing to impress me with his attacking instincts and fantastic crossing ability, floating in balls to both Glesnes and Pryzbylko, who probably should’ve scored twice. Saprissa’s aggression in the tackle cost them in the 47th minute when  Anthony Fontana was fouled; Jamiro Monteiro scored from the resulting spot kick.

 Two more goals would be scored in the following 6 minutes, both from the home side. A corner kick in the 51st was the first goal, as the inswinging cross from Monteiro was headed home by Kacper the Not-so-Friendly Ghost for 2-0. Anthony Fontana (whose deputization at striker during the injury absence of Sergio Santos has been fantastic) latched on to a Monteiro through ball 3 minutes later (this play started by Alejandro Bedoya’s interception of a poor Saprissa ball) and smartly finished across the face of goal, putting the Union up 3-0 (4-0 on aggregate) and in control of the tie.

 The game wasn’t done yet, as the Union continued to dominate. Quinn Sullivan, handed his debut by Curtin, had a chance to make it 4 but his shot was right at keeper Cruz, who did well to stop other efforts from Fontana and Monteiro. But Jamiro, the Man of the Match, wouldn’t be denied, as he made a searing run in the beginning of stoppage time, shimmying past a Saprissa defender and curling a low shot past Cruz, putting the Union up 4-0 and ending a dominant display.

 With that, the Union began their continental campaign with a bang, dispatching Costa Rica’s best and most historic club with ease. The quarterfinals against Atlanta United are up next and a CCL title isn’t out of the question. 

 TAKEAWAYS: Leon Flach looked very impressive on the ball and in the pass as he garnered the start in both legs. Sergio Santos made his long-awaited return from injury with a small cameo in the second half; so did Stuart Findlay, making his Union debut. The team made a lot of smart runs and through balls, something you’ll expect to see more of this season. Fontana’s great form may mean he moves back to his favored 10 spot when Santos is fully healthy.