By Siobhan Nolan
Although they were missing eight players due to red card suspensions and international duty, the Union were able to handle FC Cincinnati, largely due to the Homegrown influence on the field.
The Homegrowns showed their prowess early on, with Paxten Aaronson and Jack McGlynn combining to set up Sergio Santos in the second minute, but the attempt was knocked aside by Cincinnati goalie Przemysław Tytoń.
Right after Santos’ chance, Cincinnati were able to grab the ball. Alvaro Barreal took advantage of the high Union press and raced towards the Union’s half. Barreal lifted a pass to Luciano Acosta, but Jack Elliott was able to track back and stay on Acosta to prevent the home team from scoring.
As the fifteenth minute rolled around, Jim Curtin was forced to make a substitution when Santos went down with an apparent injury. Quinn Sullivan entered the game, making for a total of five Homegrowns on the pitch.
Matt Freese showed some heroics in the first half, namely when former Union player Haris Medunjanin found Isaac Atanga for a shot on goal, but Freese controlled his space well and was able to push the ball away.
As the first half went into stoppage time, McGlynn opted to fire the ball towards the endline, where Aaronson was able to pick it up and move in behind the defense. Aaronson then found Kacper Przybylko in the box, who held control of the ball and sent it streaking into the back of the net to put the Union up 1-0.
The start of the second half saw Curtin revert his players back into a 4-4-2 formation, stationing Elliott at the base of the midfield diamond and Leon Flach at left back.
The Union’s second goal was a full Homegrown effort, with Nathan Harriel picking out Aaronson towards the back post. Harriel curled the ball towards the 18-year-old, who sent a low shot past Tyton for a 2-0 scoreline.
Cincinnati began creating problems for the Union’s defense, and after creating two chances in about three minutes, Matt Real was sent on to reinforce the back line.
In the 82nd minute, Medunjanin managed to get a foot on the ball in the center of the box to put one past Freese and make it a 2-1 game.
In the last gasps of the game, Sullivan got one final offensive press going, beating out Brenner to pass the ball off to Aaronson. Aaronson was looking to set up Flach for a third goal, but his shot was deflected. There was no worry, however, as the game closed with a 2-1 Union victory.
Man of the Match: All of the Homegrowns seriously stepped up to run this game, but Aaronson in particular was dazzling. He thrived in the playmaker role, showing off creativity and technical ability well beyond his years. When he linked up with McGlynn and Sullivan, it looked like the connection of seasoned professionals, and proved even further that they’re capable of making magic happen on the field.
The Main Takeaway: The Union’s squad depth has been a point of concern all season, but this game showed that even with a thin bench and the majority of their starting 11 not being able to legally drink yet, these players can get results. Curtin knows now that he absolutely can call upon the less experienced players and trust them to get the three points they need to stay competitive in this playoff race.