Here, finally, was the big win over a big team that the Union have craved for so long.
With a full game of tenacious high-pressure defense and two terrific second-half goals, the Union silenced David Villa and took down New York City FC, 2-0, at Talen Energy Stadium.
"We challenged the group to raise their level … They're starting to ask a lot of each other, which is powerful," manager Jim Curtin said.
He especially praised his players for "their ability to counter-press as soon as we lost the ball, recover it and win it back."
After a scoreless but entertaining first half, the Union (10-11-3, 33 points) flew out of the gates in the second half. David Accam forced a big save from New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the opening seconds, and C.J. Sapong shot over the crossbar from close range in the 51st minute.
Meanwhile, Villa loomed across the field. He tested Andre Blake once in the first half, and no one in Union colors dared take their eyes off him as he waited to pounce again.
But in the 56th minute, NYCFC coach Domènec Torrent took the Spanish star out. Maybe it was because Villa came back from a long injury absence last weekend; maybe it was because City (14-6-5, 47 points) plays the rival Red Bulls on Wednesday. Regardless, there were sighs of relief around the stands.
Mere seconds later, there were much louder noises. Borek Dockal sprung Cory Burke with a lovely run up the middle, and an even better defense-splitting pass. Burke took it on the left side of the 18-yard box and struck a composed, low shot past Johnson.
Ilsinho doubled the lead in the 76th minute, after coming off the bench in the 68th for his first appearance since an injury just over a month ago. The veteran Brazilian pulled the full set of tricks out of his bag, cutting in from the right wing with dazzling dribbles before firing low past Johnson.
"I got the ball, [was] waiting for the right moment, and sometimes I just bet," he said. "If the moment is going to be right, lucky for me. If they get the ball, I try another one next time."
The Union killed the game off from there, and New York's players didn't hide their feelings. As tempers flared, Ronald Matarrita decked Ilsinho in second-half stoppage time, earning a straight red card.