The Union lost 1-0 in Cincinnati on Saturday night in the MLS Eastern Conference semifinal. Missing half of their backline and playing on the road, they didn’t light the world on fire, especially in the attacking third, but they battled against the league’s best team, held a clean sheet until stoppage time, and then watched Cincy score on a dead ball routine that featured a highly-questionable non-offside call:

Nothing notable from that angle, other than unacceptable set piece marking.

But on the side-angle replay, it sure looked like #32, Ian Murphy, was offside when he headed the initial ball back across the box:

Note that Julian Carranza’s arm and hand don’t matter in this sequence, because the offside rule only applies to body parts that can legally touch the ball. So in this case, you’d draw the line in the shoulder/armpit area.

But yeah, it sure looked offside on replay! And look, we’re always liable to be tricked by imperfect camera angles, but the Union fan base is pragmatic and will concede the goal if proven to be wrong. They’re also smart enough to know that their team didn’t play well enough over the course of 97 minutes to win this game.

Certainly there was more to the match than this single sequence.

The problem is that the Apple TV broadcast only gave us the two angles that I’ve shown in this story, and according to the MLS website writeup, the refs didn’t even go to VAR:

Head referee Ismail Elfath held the ensuing kick-off for Video Review to check a possible offside on Murphy, but the match’s video assistant referees ultimately decided not to recommend the play for further review, leaving the goal to stand and eliminating Philly from the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

“It’s always disappointing when [the season] comes to an end, and so abruptly too with an indecisive kind of play. VAR’s there for a reason, to get things right. And I’m not sure that it worked out tonight,” head coach Jim Curtin said after the match.

Asked if he was given an explanation for the decision after the play, Curtin expressed further frustration with the situation.

“We have an iPad obviously on the bench. Every player that saw it, every coach that saw it said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s offsides, it’s offsides. It’s coming back. [Murphy’s] offsides,’” Curtin relayed of the game’s biggest moment. “That’s also why we didn’t have a change up immediately because it was so clear to everybody that was telling me. I think the word that we got from the center referee was that they did review it and it was deemed onside.”

The thing that bothers me the most is that this is a massive playoff game, and we’re watching behind a paywall and get a grand total of two camera angles, both of which are inconclusive. The broadcast didn’t have much information to share, because they saw the same thing we did. If this was the NFL, we’d get 1,000 different replays of a catch or non-catch, which at least would give us something conclusive. We’d get some kind of closure, whether or not the play went in our team’s favor or not.

But in this case, it’s like Caddyshack. We’ll get nothing and like it! It’s the dearth of information and explanation that really blows. The only thing offered to Union fans (and Cincy fans) was the soccer equivalent of “trust me bro,” with no VAR check and no explanation beyond what I shared from the MLS article above.

Nobody is naive to the fact that the NFL is a bazillion-dollar business, and MLS is MLS, but the question is whether or not we’re using all of the tools at our disposable. It’s a HUGE MOMENT! Just go to VAR and double-check. And do we have enough tools, or the proper tools? Because a lot of Union fans remain dissatisfied 12 hours after watching their season end on a TOUGH call. If Murphy was onside, so be it! But there’s gotta be a better way to bring closure beyond two shit replays and this nothing burger of an explanation:

Source: “because we said so.” 

It’s not good enough.