With a dose of skill and an even bigger dose of luck, the Union secured a vital 1-0 win over the New England Revolution on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.
The goal was a smart piece of work, but also controversial. In the 53rd minute, Haris Medunjanin sprung Cory Burke with a ball over the top of New England's defense, and Burke took off. As Burke raced toward goal, assistant referee Peter Manikowski flagged Burke for offside, even though Burke was onside. Referee Drew Fischer didn't blow his whistle to stop play. Burke kept running, went around New England goalkeeper Matt Turner, and scored.
Because Burke continued the play and put the ball in the net, the video replay booth was able to intervene and tell Fischer to review the sequence. Fischer did so, and awarded the goal.
A fracas ensued, unsurprisingly. No one came to blows, but Union manager Jim Curtin summed the mood up well by calling it "a WWF-like moment."
"It was certainly one of the strangest things I've seen," Curtin said. "I'm not going to take credit for that play as a coach. You hear from the age of 5, 'play to the whistle.' So credit to Cory, he was the only one that kind of kept going, it seemed in the whole stadium, maybe."
This much is certain: Burke deserves a lot of praise for thinking fast and smart in the moment.
"When I see the ball played, I know that all I've got to do is try to get the ball and try to score," he said. "The one thing on my mind there was to try to score the goal."
Burke admitted that he only looked over to Manikowski once, just before Medunjanin hit the pass. Once he started running, he didn't know everyone had stopped behind him.
"I looked and I saw the guy there, the defender wide who kept me on side," Burke said. "When the ball was played, I didn't look again. I just kept going and tried to beat the keeper to score. … I never knew that the linesman had held up his flag and everyone had stopped play, so I kept on playing."
Why did Fischer let the play go, instead of blowing his whistle when the flag went up? The replay protocol recommends to referees that in such situations, they should use discretion to let the play run to a conclusion, and Fischer did exactly that.
"Following the video review protocol, the play was allowed to continue until the goal was scored," he said. "At this point, the decision on the field was offside. The VAR [replay booth] recommended a review for a goal, and, following the review, a goal was awarded."
The Revolution (7-10-8, 29 points) came inches away from tying the game in the 67th minute, but Medunjanin saved the Union (11-11-3, 36 points) by blocking Brandon Bye's header on the goal line. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made big saves in the 70th and 79th minutes.
The remaining minutes were ill-tempered — indeed, the whole night was. There were quite a few hard fouls, some called by Fischer and some not. But the Union were able to run out the clock and take another big step toward their first playoff berth in two years.