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Union’s Daniel Gazdag on a bit of a scoring run again

CHESTER — A lot was made last year of Daniel Gazdag’s lack of goals from the run of play. That noise, if it permeated the bubble around the Union midfielder, left no impact.

Little has changed for the Union’s No. 10 in his approach or his on-field movement. But the goals are flowing.

Gazdag’s game-winner last Saturday in Nashville, nodded home on a 90th-minute corner kick, was his third goal from run of play in 2024. He had just four all of last year, with 18 of his 22 goals in all competitions coming from the penalty spot.

Gazdag didn’t feel that was a reason for change in any aspects of his play, and he’s reaping the rewards.

“I didn’t think too much about that,” Gazdag said. “I knew if the chances would come, I would score them. I didn’t put pressure on myself.”

Gazdag’s production didn’t dip, though the source of goals shifted. In his MVP finalist campaign in 2022, he scored 22 goals, 15 from open play. The league figure dropped to 14 goals last year, and 22 in all competitions. Eighteen were penalty conversions.

His first goal from the run of play in 2023 didn’t come until May 20. His second in MLS wasn’t until September.

This year, Gazdag has three already – the equalizer late against Chicago, the opener against Minnesota and the winner in Nashville.

The last two years were anomalous. The Union had one of the most productive offensive seasons in MLS history in 2022, a scorching late-summer streak that was simply not repeatable. Last year, they earned 18 penalty kicks, a historic figure. Gazdag set the MLS record by converting 11 penalties (the previous mark was nine). He’s 21-for-21 on PKs in regular season and playoffs (shootouts excluded).

Even he admits the number of PKs earned last year was, “pretty unusual.” But as long as the ball is going in, Gazdag doesn’t much concern himself with how.

“The most important thing is that I have to score goals,” Gazdag said. “It doesn’t matter how it comes. Last year we got a lot of penalties. I tried to score all of them, and it was working good. This year already, I scored three non-PK goals, so I’m happy with that, too. But my goal is just to score as many as I can.”

So what’s different this year? Maybe a bit of fortune. For one, fewer penalties mean more attacking moves finishing. Gazdag’s ability to be in the right place at the right time didn’t dim, but the ball didn’t always find him. The chemistry that was so electric between Gazdag, Julian Carranza and Mikael Uhre in 2022 waned at times in 2023 but seems reinvigorated this year.

“Sometimes that is the case, you get a break or two,” manager Jim Curtin said Friday. “You lose your mark in the box and you finish a play off. Some years, goalkeepers make big saves or you miss a chance you usually score. Dani’s (was) still putting up big numbers goals wise last year. We do want more in the run of play of course, from any player and especially the No. 10. But you’ve seen a really, really strong start to the year for him.”

Curtin is effusive about Gazdag’s ability to confound defenders and go invisible in the box. Gazdag isn’t much one for expounding upon his dark arts. But his result-securing goals this year are an extension of the same steeliness so often shown at the penalty spot last season.

“This last goal to win the game is another example of it,” Curtin said. “He’s free, he’s wide open somehow at a critical portion of the game, and that’s what you want your players to do: Score a game-winning goal that turns a tie into a win and makes 30,000 people go silent.”

• • •

The Union are healthy for Sunday’s game in Atlanta United (2:30, FS1).

Andre Blake trained fully all week. He left the game against Minnesota two weeks ago with concussion symptoms, passed protocol late last week but caught a ball to the head in training last Friday. The Union erred on the side of caution in not bringing him to Nashville, but he now has a clean bill of health. So does Mikael Uhre, who trained through a plantar fasciitis flareup that held him out last week.

Kai Wagner (leg) left the Nashville game early but trained fully by Thursday. Leon Flach (torn pectoral) is working to the side. Curtin said he could rejoin training next week.

The Union (3-0-3, 12 points) are the last unbeaten in MLS. They finish a stretch of four of five on the road at Atlanta United (3-2-1, 10 points). The Union are 0-3-3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium all-time, including a playoff loss. They won there in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2021.

“Guys are confident, they’re playing well,” Curtin said. “But we also recognize the opponent in Atlanta is a team that if you’re not compact and organized and ready for the challenge, it can go bad fast. They’ve beaten a lot of teams handily in that building.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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