The Union spent Saturday evening commemorating a lot of milestones. Sébastien Le Toux became the first member of the team’s ring of honor, Walter Bahr’s death was observed with a moment of silence, and Jim Curtin celebrated his 39th birthday.
The most important milestone, though, came during the game. With a dominant win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Union (6-7-3, 21 points) finally jumped into sixth place in the Eastern Conference — and into one of the playoff spots.
It might be only a temporary achievement. Next weekend, Chicago, Orlando or Montreal — seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively, and all within one win in the standings — might jump over them. But this will be true no matter the other results: Faced with a chance to make a statement, the Union did.
“We’re at a stage where I know we’re going to play good soccer now,” Curtin said. “I know that we’re going to keep the ball, I know that we’re going to attack and create chances. The only question is how will the group respond to adversity.”
They didn’t have to on Saturday. The first 20 minutes of the game were arguably the Union’s most impressive spell of the season. They recorded a 6-0 advantage in shots, a 179-45 advantage in attempted passes, and 79 percent of the possession.
Four minutes later, they got a well-deserved reward as Borek Dockal fired in the game’s opening goal. Ilsinho jumped on a poor clearance by Vancouver’s Brek Shea — a former U.S. national team phenom who is now a backup left back — and set up Dockal for a rip from 15 yards.
That dominance only grew over the course of the first half. When the whistle blew, the advantage in shots was 14-0. But the score remained 1-0, and Vancouver (6-6-5, 23 points) showed pace and purpose in its rare forays upfield.
Dockal doubled the lead in the 71st minute with another fine goal, on the team’s 20th shot of the game. He took a pass from Alejandro at the edge of the 18-yard box, cut past two defenders and lashed a shot past Whitecaps goalkeeper Brian Rowe.
“For the first time maybe this season, I felt like we had full control over 90 minutes,” Dockal said. “Usually, we make it difficult in the second half for ourselves with a stupid goal that we concede.”
The third goal came on the Union’s next trip down the field. Vancouver’s Jose Aja held back Cory Burke in the 18-yard box, and was sent off for it. Ilsinho converted the penalty kick in the 74th minute with an old-fashioned smash. There was no need for any fancy stutter steps or overthinking the placement, as we’ve seen in the World Cup this summer (and at times in MLS).
Picault finished the game off with a penalty kick in second-half stoppage time. He won the penalty, too, after stealing the ball at midfield and sprinting down the left wing.
At the final whistle, the Union had an impressive haul of stats to show off, with 25 shots and 545 completed passes. The latter figure was the second-highest in a game in team history.
Most important, they had a win that will likely make the rest of MLS take notice.
In honor of Jim Curtin's 39th birthday today, I asked him how this game reflects his evolution as a coach (because it does).
His answer: pic.twitter.com/rHFlepI36l
— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) June 24, 2018