By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
The Union collected their third straight win and their third straight clean sheet against the Portland Timbers, and finally have started to show how dangerous they can be in all areas of the field. This win has propelled them to second place, just three points behind the New England Revolution, going into a three-week international break—it’s looking like the Union are well and truly back. Let’s recap.
While the defense had another solid night, rarely letting the Timbers too close to Andre Blake’s goal, but it was the midfield that really shined. The diamond formation rarely ever puts a foot wrong, but they were all over Portland in this game, barely giving them any room to breathe. Jamiro Monteiro consistently left the Timbers midfielders in the dust, while Jose Martinez calmly collected the ball every time the opposition would try to dribble past him.
The first goal, perhaps unsurprisingly, came from Kacper Przybyłko. A perfectly timed header put the Union up 1-0, but the Boys In Blue didn’t sit back and let the defense protect the lead. Within five minutes, Sergio Santos tapped in his first MLS goal of the season, putting the Union ahead with a comfortable 2-0 lead.
Then, Leon Flach notched what would have been his first MLS goal, had it not been for VAR ruling against the goal after deciding that there had been a handball.
It was all about the offense in the second half too, so much so that Portland started getting chippy to prevent the Union from getting into prime scoring positions. Not to be deterred, eventually defender Jack Elliott scored a goal, officially putting the Union in control with a 3-0 lead.
As if the night wasn’t already going well enough, Jim Curtin finally handed Paxten Aaronson his MLS debut in the 89th minute of play. While the younger Aaronson (his older brother is former Union starboy Brenden Aaronson) didn’t have a chance to make much a difference in the game, Curtin explained that there’s still plenty of chances for the homegrowns to make an impact this season.
“We don’t just hand them minutes,” Curtin said in his post-match press conference, referring to Aaronson and the other young players in the squad. “They earn everything. Paxten has earned every opportunity that has come through his hard work and training. He’s been excellent in practice, day in and day out. So now he gets rewarded.”
Curtin also acknowledged that the young players are hungry to make more of a difference in the squad, and that their time is coming.
“I know they want more minutes, and they want to impact the game in a bigger war. I think that that is coming,” Curtin said. “But for these guys, there’s a plan in place that we have with our staff, but it needs to be said, the minutes are earned on the training field. And those guys, both Quinn [Sullivan] and Paxten, have really done a good job every day. So there’s a little reward tonight. Again, I want the minutes to be longer because they are both special players.”
Man of the Match: A special shoutout to Aaronson for his debut and carrying on the family dynasty, but this honor has to go to Flach for this game. While he was robbed of his first MLS goal, he was always on the ball, making runs into the box, and finding space for chances. Flach has been such an important piece in this midfield, and his performance against Portland showcased that extremely well.
The Main Takeaway: This is the Union that the fans want to see, and this is the Union that will run MLS if they can keep up this performance quality. With a display like this, the only criticisms are nitpicky ones—more open play goals, more efficient substitutions, fewer extra touches in the box—and those can all be easily fixed. This is the perfect way to enter the extended break, and the perfect way to kickstart the Union’s dominance in MLS going forward.