The Philadelphia Union didn’t dominate on Wednesday night at Subaru Park, but overall got the job done in its quest for a first-ever trophy in club history. Now the Eastern Conference side has set itself up nicely to clinch the Supporters’ Shield this weekend with a victory in Columbus.
Jim Curtin’s team edged the Chicago Fire 2-1 in Chester, moving to 8-0-0 at home this season. Four days after a dominating victory over Toronto FC, the Union showed it can grind out three points by holding on late to move three points clear of TFC in the Eastern Conference table.
With injuries, suspension, COVID-19 and all, the Union showed another reason why they deserve the Supporters’ Shield title this season.
“Another unique day in what’s been a unique season,” Curtin said. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of our players for their resiliency, their ability to adjust, adapt, and embrace any new challenge that comes their way.”
“Big three points, but I would also say I feel empty because we’re missing some important people. These three points cost us a lot.”
Coming into Wednesday’s match, one Union player was ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19. While the player’s identity was never revealed, all signs pointed to midfielder Jose Martinez who recently returned from international duty with Venezuela.
Matt Real and Warren Creavalle were both out with injuries while Jamiro Monteiro served a one-match suspension due to yellow card accumulation. Jack Elliott played in the No. 6 role ahead of centerbacks Mark McKenzie and Jakob Glesnes and excelled for the second time this season in that role.
A dramatic goal-line clearance in stoppage time from Andrew Wooten paired with a winning goal from substitute Cory Burke in his second match back in MLS handed the Union another crucial victory with the playoffs right around the corner.
“It shows that everyone’s ready to do what they need to do for the team to win,” Elliott said. “It was a great goal-line clearance. It shows that everyone is willing and ready to do whatever it takes to get the three points.”
“It’s a great feeling to be back home with the guys and all these Union lovely fans,” Burke said. “It couldn’t be better. It’s a happy feeling to be back home and score my first goal in front of everyone.”
The lone blemish on the night was the apparent hand injury to star goalkeeper Andre Blake. Blake left the match late in the second-half, being replaced by fellow veteran Joe Bendik.
While Bendik has several years of MLS experience, Blake has been one of the top goalkeepers since earning the No. 1 job in 2016. The Jamaican international has posted a 13-3-5 record this season while only conceding 18 goals in 21 games played. There is no timetable for Blake’s return yet, but should he miss the rest of the season, it would be a major blow to the Union’s hopes of a first-ever MLS Cup title as well.
“Early sounds from Andre – again, we’ll wait until we can get pictures – I think his hand got tangled in the net,” Curtin said. “Obviously, when the goalkeeper has to come out of the game, it’s not good, so I can just leave it at that. Not good in terms of the early prognosis but we’ll see when we get some pictures and get some clarity.”
The Union will now prepare for a tip to Mafpre Stadium on Sunday, knowing a victory paired with a TFC draw or loss will clinch them the Supporters’ Shield. Columbus has beaten Philadelphia on both occasions this season at home, but has not tasted victory in its last five matches overall.
For Philly, the goal will be to came out with the same energy and effort that has gotten them in this situation.
“Obviously, it’s an exciting prospect [winning the Shield] and we’re all excited about that, but I think the important thing is just to go into the next game and play the way we play,” Elliott said. “I’m sure if we play how we know we can play, play well, then that’s going to take care of itself.”