The roar of the crowd at Subaru Park quickly drowned out the Union’s celebrations on the field when Kacper Przybylko scored his first goal in two months to put his team up 2-1 over Orlando City in the 61st minute of Sunday’s 3-1 win.
But you didn’t need to hear Przybylko and his teammates to see the emotions of the Union’s top striker, who snapped a nine-game goal drought that had spanned 866 minutes of play. The win also came at a crucial time, on the back of the team’s elimination from the Concacaf Champions League and a fall out of the Eastern Conference playoff spots.
“A huge, huge relief for the entire team,” Przybylko said. “That game today was a game that is going to lead us for the next, final games in the season.”
And as Kai Wagner put it with a mix of German and English aphorisms: “I think a big stone fell off from us right now.”
Wagner, Przybylko, and other Union players had grown frustrated in the game’s early stages, before Wagner opened the scoring with a 37th-minute deflected goal. That was easy to see too, and Przybylko acknowledged it.
“Of course, every time it’s a frustration when the ball’s not going in,” he said. “But we were dominating the game from minute one, and if we would have tied this game today, it would have felt like a huge, huge loss. So I’m very happy that the team fought until the end.”
The Union’s attack still isn’t as fluid as it could be, but the players clearly have regained the confidence that helped deliver some big results early in the season — such as the Champions League elimination of Atlanta United and the come-from-behind 2-2 tie at Merdeces-Benz Stadium in the teams’ first regular-season meeting that followed.
This week, Atlanta returns to Subaru Park for the first time since the Champions League series, having won seven of its last eight games. The Five Stripes have fired in 10 goals in their last three contests, with six of those goals coming from stars Josef Martínez and Ezequiel Barco.
Atlanta knows Przybylko plenty well, having watched him score three of the Union’s four goals in the Champions League series. In fact, of all the MLS teams Przybylko has played against, he has scored his second-most goals against Atlanta: four in four games. The only team he has scored more against is D.C. United (6).
Wagner believes Przybylko’s double against Orlando on Sunday could be a big moment for his close friend. Of all the players who could benefit the Union by going on a hot streak, only Dániel Gazdag might have more importance.
“I was speaking [in] the last weeks a lot to [Przybylko]: just keep believing, just keep shooting, and the ball will go in,” Wagner said. “I just hope for him that this will be like a door opener, and he can give us a lot of goals at the end of the season.”
But there is one big caveat: Przybylko might not play against Atlanta. The MLS Disciplinary Committee will likely take a long look at an elbow that Przybylko landed in the face of Orlando’s Rodrigo Schlegel in the buildup to Wagner’s opening goal Sunday.
The sequence started with a Union free kick. As Wagner took it, Przybylko connected with Schlegel amid a traffic jam of players in Orlando’s 18-yard box. The bench-side assistant referee raised his flag to signal a foul, and at the same time Orlando regained the ball and broke the other way. Center referee Alan Kelly clearly signaled to Orlando to play on. After that, the Union forced a turnover, went the other way and scored.
A spokesperson for the Professional Referees Organization explained the officials’ decisions to The Inquirer after the game. The goal couldn’t be taken off the board of the multiple changes of possession before Wagner’s shot – in other words, Orlando’s regaining of the ball meant Wagner’s shot wasn’t connected to Przybylko’s elbow.
But Przybylko still could have been sent off retroactively, because that’s allowed. He wasn’t, the spokesperson said, because the replay booth “did not identify a clear and obvious error in the non-issuing of a red card.”
And if you’re wondering why Jamiro Monteiro wasn’t flagged for offside on Wagner’s shot, since he was clearly in an offside position, he was judged to not be interfering with the play.
Orlando fans unsurprisingly disagreed with all of that. We’ll see what the MLS Disciplinary Committee has to say later this week.