Philadelphia Union rave about playmaker Cristian Maidana after he takes league lead in assists

CHESTER, Pa.—The Philadelphia Union didn’t try to hide their devastation after blowing two second-half leads in Sunday’s 3-3 draw with the Chicago Fire.

But they couldn't help express amazement at Cristian “Chaco” Maidana, who assisted on three of Philly’s goals to set the Union single-season assist record (14), also passing Sporting Kansas City star Benny Feilhaber atop this season's MLS leaderboard.

“If you’re a striker, the player you want behind you is a player like him,” said forward Fernando Aristeguieta. “(Cristian) is a player that, every time he receives the ball, can figure out to create a location with a pass to you, a pass to the line for a cross, with a shot, with a dribble. It’s a player that’s different than us. As a striker, it’s very easy to play in front of him.”

Aristeguieta was the recipient of the first of Maidana’s assists, depositing a corner kick from the Argentine playmaker into the net in the 21st minute.

On Philly’s next two goals, Maidana led counter-attacks before making smart passes across the middle of the field, the first to Fabinho (31') and the second to Sebastien Le Toux, a 90th-minute goal that put the Union ahead 3-2.

The three-assist game, which matched a franchise record, marked the third of Maidana’s MLS career and his second in as many months.

“I’m proud at the moment for what I’ve done,” said Maidana, through a translator. “If the team gets more goals because of it, I feel proud of it. I’m really happy here in MLS and so is my family. I hope I can stay in the United States for a while and continue to help the team.”

Although the consistency hasn’t always been there, Maidana certainly has been an influential player in the league since arriving in Philly prior to the 2014 season. Since that season started, the attacking midfielder from Argentina has 25 assists – more than anyone in MLS – and is currently on pace to reach 20 assists this season, a feat only one player in league history has accomplished: former league MVP Carlos Valderrama, who tallied 26 assists in 2000.

“(Cristian) is a good passer of the ball, a special player,” said Union head coach Jim Curtin. “He had a couple of chances to get a goal tonight, too. He was dynamic, he set up a lot of our chances. Most of our goals do come through him. He’s special in that regard.”

Indeed, Maidana could have added a couple of his goals to Sunday's brilliance, if not for two of Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson's eight incredible saves.

Though Maidana has only three MLS goals in his season-plus, teammates insist that he deserves more league-wide recognition.

“For him to reach such a milestone, that’s incredible,” said defender Ray Gaddis. “I’m very happy for Chaco, I’m proud of Chaco. That just shows what kind of attacking threat Chaco Maidana is. To be leading the league – sometimes I don’t think the players in the locker room get as much respect as they should.”

Said midfielder Brian Carroll: “As long as he keeps doing that, I don’t think he’ll be underrated for much longer.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.