After 11 seasons in Major League Soccer, the Philadelphia Union have finally claimed their first piece of hardware, winning the Supporters’ Shield – awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the regular season – after dispatching of the New England Revolution 2-0 on a beautiful November day.

In any other international soccer league, that would stand as the ultimate domestic prize, but since this is America, the Union will now prepare for a *hopefully* long postseason run. Regardless, this was a historic season for the Boys in Blue, one worth recapping as the 4-for-4 fans evolve into their 5-for-5 form.

The First Start of the Season

It’s been an admittedly odd season, which first began with a disappointing February 29 result as the Union dropped a 2-0 road contest with the FC Dallas. They bounced back with a 3-3 road draw against LAFC, a team many believed were the frontrunner for the MLS Cup. Then the sports world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the remainder of the season up in the air.

MLS is Back Tournament

With the NBA slated to restart their season in the Orlando bubble, MLS also opted to take advantage of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, restarting play with the MLS is Back tournament in late July.

The Union opened group play with a 1-0 win over NYCFC, followed it up with a 2-1 victory over expansion side Inter Miami, and wrapped up group play with a 1-1 draw to Orlando City. Philadelphia finished second in Group A with a 2-0-1 record, losing the goal differential tiebreaker to Orlando City by a mere goal.

In the Round of 16, the Union knocked off the New England Revolution 1-0 and stomped Sporting Kansas City 3-1 in the tournament’s quarterfinal before dropping a 2-1 result to the Portland Timbers in the semis. It was a strong showing for a team looking to prove 2019 wasn’t a fluke and, in fairness, the Union lost to the team that went on to win the MLS is Back Tournament final.

The Second Regular Season Start

Philadelphia restarted the season outside of the Orlando bubble with a 0-0 draw to the New England Revolution and went on one heck of a run to finish the regular season.

The Union had the opportunity to effectively clinch the MLS Supporters’ Shield in front of a national audience on November 1, but were handed just their fourth defeat of the season in a 2-1 road loss to Columbus, setting up Sunday’s decisive game.

The Clincher

With the national spotlight shining brightly on Sunday afternoon, the Union welcomed the New England Revolution to town for the final game of the regular season, while Toronto FC – the only team who could snatch the Shield away – taking on Red Bull New York.

The Union, who entered play with an undefeated regular season home record, were given an early jolt as New York struck first in their match. All the Union had to do was hold on for a draw and, assuming New York could hang on to a one-goal lead, the Shield would be theirs. But, that would’ve been a somewhat anticlimactic way to end things.

In the 42nd minute, Sergio Santos struck what ended up being the decisive, Shield-clinching goal off what was essentially a reset corner kick:

It was an excellent job of heading the ball on from Jakob Glesnes, who fed it to captain Alejandro Beedoya, who clanked it off the crossbar, and to the waiting foot of Santos.

Corey Burke finished off an excellent centering pass from Jose “El Brujo” Martinez to double the Union’s lead in the 69th minute and start the celebration in Chester:

What followed was a rush like no other; that of celebration in the midst of the strangest season in recent memory:

Union owner Jay Sugarman took to the field after the game and was showered in applause, something any Union fan would have scoffed at after years of organizational incompetence and bad optics, including Sugarman’s helicopter touching down ahead of a US Open Cup Final, while big money signing were few and far between.

To his credit, Sugarman acquitted himself well with the at the mic:

Wow. I am so proud of this team. In this year of global challenges, they fought for each other, they fought for our fans, and they fought for what’s right…

I just want to thank our players. I want to thank Jim and all of our coaches. Coach of the Year. I want to thank Ernst in particular for helping us get here. Thank you, Ernst.

I want to thank our technical staff, but most of all I want to thank all of our supporters. All of you. This Shield is by you and for you. We won the Shield!

Following this speech came Sugarman’s indisputably best hire in the past couple of years: Sporting Director Ernst Tanner. Tanner has established a vision for the Club, executed player acquisitions along the margins, and has further supported a burgeoning Academy product. His postgame speech was excellent and echoed much of what he said in a statement:

What our team has been able to do during the toughest season of Major League Soccer is truly remarkable. This team has shown heart, determination, and sacrifice to bring home the first major trophy for the club and city. From the day I arrived, the strategy was to build a winning team through our young talents and new signings, and develop a championship mentality that would allow us to become one of the top clubs in Major League Soccer.

It was a heck of an accomplishment for a team that spent years putting a subpar product on the field while boasting about its Academy system. To that end, the Union agreed on a record-breaking transfer fee sending academy product Brenden Aaronson to Red Bull Salzburg. Meanwhile, center back Mark McKenzie has been rumored to be a target of Scotland’s Celtic.

Kinkead: They conceded just 20 goals in 23 games. Best defensive team in the league, by far. And their 44 goals scored were tied for #2 overall, giving them a ridiculous +24 goal differential. They were 9-0-0 at home, even without the fans there. And Andre Blake was an MVP candidate pre-broken hand, but should be back in time for the playoffs.

Regardless of who ultimately moves on in the next transfer window and how the team does in the postseason, winning the Supporters’ Shield feel like the start of something truly great. I’ll let Ray Gaddis have the last word:

For more Union coverage, check out It’s Always Soccer in Philadelphia with Kevin Kinkead: