The Union did something Saturday night that they had never done in their history. And for once, that was a good thing.
With goals from Marcus Epps, Borek Dockal, Ilsinho, and Keegan Rosenberry, the Union beat Real Salt Lake for the first time ever, 4-1, at Talen Energy Stadium.
RSL won or tied in all 11 previous meetings between the teams, and was the only team from the Union’s inaugural season that they had never beaten.
“We talked a lot about how if we did not back up the good performance in Montreal with another one, it would be meaningless,” said Curtin, whose team blanked Montreal last Saturday.
The Union (4-5-2, 14 points) took a well-deserved lead in the 21st minute when Fafa Picault set up Epps for a close-range finish.
It was the Union’s seventh shot of the game to that point, including two that forced a spectacular double save from veteran Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Dockal doubled the lead in the 34th with a beautiful goal. Alejandro Bedoya sprung him with a smart pass, and Dockal chipped Rimando without breaking stride.
“I saw the space to go behind [the defender], so I tried, and Ale gave me a perfect ball,” Dockal said.
The Czech playmaker finished the night with a goal and two assists.
Curtin asserted after the game that Dockal “was treated unfairly at the beginning of the season by some snarky Twitter heroes” who highlighted a lack of tangible stats.
Whether or not the criticism was fair, there was no doubt about Saturday’s performance.
But there was a moment of doubt when RSL (4-6-1, 13 points) cut the Union’s lead in the 65th minute, with a goal from halftime substitute Damir Kreilach.
The Union responded just two minutes later, as Epps hit a shot that Rimando surprisingly fumbled into his own net. Alas, Epps was offside when Dockal played the ball to him, and the video replay booth caught it. The goal was rightly overturned.
The third goal ultimately came in the 74th minute, and once again the offside rule was invoked. But Ilsinho’s finish was allowed to stand, even though Bedoya stood just inches from the net when the ball rolled by him.
Why did it count? Because while Bedoya was past every other player on the field, he got out of the ball’s way and put his hands up to claim he wasn’t involved in the sequence. Referee Hilario Grajeda agreed.
Rosenberry put the icing on the cake in the 81st, thundering a low shot from 25 yards past Rimando.
Curtin had his moment of triumph, too. He listed a range of statistics, from expected goals to possession, in which the Union rank highly, then asked pointedly: “So I guess the question is, what if we’re a good team?”
They might not be that just yet. After all, they’re only in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, and their current winning streak is only two games.
But there’s no denying Saturday night was a statement win.