As soon as Marco Fabián saw Fafa Picault's cross coming his way, the Union's biggest star knew what he was going to do with it.

"I always had the goal in my mind," Fabián said at Tuesday's practice, after which the team flew to Atlanta for Thursday's Eastern Conference semifinal against Atlanta United (8 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes).

“Maybe a lot of people don’t believe I tried to shoot,” he continued. “I got lucky for sure, because it touched a defender, but, in my mind, I tried to do it like this. It’s not the first time I’ve scored like this.”

Fabián was looking to cut in from the end line at the edge of the 18-yard box and aim for the far post. He saw Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles standing on his goal line, with one hand on the near post and the other pointing to teammates in anticipation of a cross.

Sometimes in a situation like that, you shoot hard and hope it goes in or produces a big rebound. Fabián saw so much room behind Robles that he thought he could land a chip shot.

By the time he was ready to fire, two New York defenders were closing in. There was still enough room to go for it, so he did. And fate smiled on him, as Marc Rzatkowski’s outstretched right leg sent the ball on its way at exactly the right angle.

“I knew the goalkeeper had two steps forward, so I just tried to chip [the ball],” Fabián said. “Of course, I can tell you how it looked, but, in my mind, always I tried to score.”

For the first 103 of Sunday’s 120-plus minutes, Fabián had to watch from the sidelines. It couldn’t have been easy, just as it couldn’t have been easy to watch much of this season from there due to injuries and tactical considerations.

“I always think positive,” he said. “And always when they need me, I say, always I try to do my best, and it’s my job, no? I’m a professional, I’m a winner, and I try to help this team, if it’s a few minutes or all the time.”

There was one silver lining to watching from the sideline: He could see cracks forming in New York’s defensive block. When he got on the field, he knew where to go to exploit the spaces.

“You have to be smart, and I just waited, and came in [to the game] to try to get this space, because they [New York] were so tired defending, with Kaku [the Red Bulls’ star playmaker] also out injured,” he said. “We had to take this moment. This moment was for us — after the goal for Fafa [that tied the score at 3-3], everything was for us. So I just tried to come in and get this moment, and finally, we won.”

Marco Fabian (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring the goal that delivered the Union's first ever playoff win.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Marco Fabian (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring the goal that delivered the Union's first ever playoff win.

Like his teammates, Fabián believed the Union could come back from trailing 3-1 at halftime.

“I know a lot of my teammates, and they are winners, too, and they know the quality we have,” Fabián said. “In this moment at halftime, maybe some mistakes were the reasons we were losing, but we knew we could go up. … When I scored my goal, it was not for me; it was not who scored. It was a job for everyone.”

On Thursday, the Union will face Major League Soccer’s reigning champion and 45,000 fans under the closed roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The combination of talent and atmosphere is unmatched in MLS. Fabián is relishing the challenge.

'We know this stadium is fantastic and full, and the support is good," he said. “For myself, it’s also good when you have a lot of people against you — it’s a motivation for you. I [want to] try to silence this stadium. For me, it’s the best thing. So we are focused on our job, and we know we can win.”