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In the 22nd minute on Saturday night, the Columbus Crew capitalized on an unusual moment at midfield, quickly scoring to take the lead against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.
Referee Ted Unkel collided with Luciano Acosta in midfield, and the Crew quickly broke the other way, putting even more pressure on a Black-and-Red team that had not won a home game or scored at Buzzard Point in a month in a half.
But the game wasn't immediately restarted, and eventually Unkel went to the replay monitor and chalked off the goal for a foul on Wil Trapp. That proved to be quite the turning point in the game, as United responded to win 3-1, taking both games from the Crew in under two weeks.
"It was one of those VAR nights," United head coach Ben Olsen said to start off his post-game press conference. "We're going to say it's a great invention, and they're going to say it's a terrible invention."
Olsen might have thought that the call favoring United was the right one, but his counterpart, Caleb Porter, had an entirely different view of the play.
"It’s a fair goal. It’s a fair goal. 100 percent," Porter told reporters in the hallway between the two locker rooms after the game. "Referee gets in the way, referee fouls Acosta. And then the referee goes and looks at the television to bail himself out. I’ve never in my life seen anything like that. Ever."
Later on, Porter added that "there should be massive ramifications for that" — Unkel making the decision to call off the goal.
This is the "foul" called on Wil Trapp that they called back the Santos goal for. Really poor officiating. pic.twitter.com/UziYeAsNyl— Eliot McKinley (@etmckinley) May 5, 2019
No matter which side of the debate is right or wrong, though, there was still plenty of soccer to be played, and the scales for the remaining 68 minutes tipped heavily in favor of United. Just minutes after the goal was called off, Acosta had United ahead, capitalizing on a scramble in the box.
Not only did United benefit on the first video review, but they reaped the rewards in first-half stoppage time as well. A ball into the box from Acosta hit the arm of Trapp, and while Unkel didn't immediately point to the spot, he went to the monitor when play stopped. Unkel pointed to the spot and gave United a penalty.
Six months ago, Crew keeper Zack Steffen saved Wayne Rooney's penalty in the playoff shootout at Audi Field. Just before stepping up to the spot on Saturday, Russell Canouse, who has played alongside Steffen before, went up to Rooney and gave him a bit of advice.
"I was going to the other corner, but Russell came up to me. He told me, in shootouts, he dives to his right on everyone," Rooney told reporters after the game.
Steffen didn't dive to his right this time, correctly guessing that Rooney would go to his left. However, there was no saving Rooney's thunderous strike, giving United a two-goal lead at the break, against an exasperated Crew side.
Paul Arriola added the third for United in the second half before an own goal from Bill Hamid gave the visitors a consolation goal in the final 15 minutes. United eventually saw out the result, ending a streak of three games at Audi Field without a goal or a win.
It was a sigh of relief for United, who had played well recently away from Audi Field but couldn't find the winning formula at home. And after a couple of weeks where the offense didn't find its highest gear while United played from a 3-4-2-1 formation, that wasn't the case on Saturday night.
"Our guys put a really good shift in. They took it personal, we got a little swagger back out there at times," said Olsen. "Lucho and Wayne have been taking some criticism as of late, and they showed up, and showed that they are a pretty good duo. And we brought some of that away mentality home."
Still, the main story of the game was the use of video review, a week after United believes that they had a perfectly good goal taken away from them against Minnesota United.
"It's a night where that stuff goes our way," said Olsen. "[Minnesota] maybe didn't go our way, usually these things even themselves out."