CHESTER, Pennsylvania — For the Philadelphia Union, the long and grueling wait for the club’s first piece of silverware is finally over and now the Union have some time to celebrate before gearing up for another trophy push.
Jim Curtin’s side ended a decade-long wait for its first trophy in club history on Sunday afternoon, clinching the 2020 Supporters’ Shield with a 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution. The Union had already clinched a playoff berth as well as a spot in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League for the first time, but they capped off a dominant regular season in style at Subaru Park.
“The first trophy at a club, I know it sounds cliche, is the hardest one to get,” Curtin said after Sunday’s win. “You guys know the story of how close we were in those Open Cups. But this is a different type of trophy. It shows that we’re a better club.”
— Larry Henry Jr (@lhenry019) November 8, 2020
“First and foremost, being here nine years it’s a very special moment,” veteran defender Ray Gaddis said. “Not only for myself, but for a coach I’ve played with in Jim Curtin for several years who has helped continue molding this team into a top team. I also want to thank everyone behind the scenes who do not get enough credit. My teammates have continued to push everyone to get better and you’ve seen that along this season.
“Also, without the fans we would not have a team here so this trophy really epitomizes the city and the fan group.”
While 2020 saw some major changes occur in the MLS regular season, the Union stayed focused and fought for every one of the 47 points it earned. It only suffered four defeats in the regular season, which was tied with Orlando City as the fewest in MLS. It also posted 14 wins out of its 23 matches and a league-high +24 goal differential with only 20 goals conceded.
After making positive strides forward over the past few seasons, the Union still had to accept the fact a trophy was needed in Philadelphia. Last year saw the club set new team records while winning its first-ever home playoff game against the rivals New York Red Bulls. 2020 was another major step forward which saw the Union players, coaching staff, front office, and fans rejoice at the final whistle of Sunday’s latest victory.
“Its an amazing feeling,” Gaddis said. “I really was trying to tell the guys what this achievement means not only for me, but also the fanbase that has had to wait so long for a trophy. Last season was great to win our first playoff game, but now we have some silverware to show for it. It was a special moment and one I won’t forget.”
“Its probably the happiest moment of my life,” Union goalkeeper Matt Freese [who started Sunday] said. “We aren’t done though, we still have a few games left to win the MLS Cup which is our next goal. It means the world to me to be part of this first trophy in club history. Everyone in his team has helped me get to where I am now and I am happy to play a role in this season.”
The Union have had a great mixture of youth and experience on its roster during the 2020 season with several players stepping up when called upon. Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie have become two of the promising young players in the group, Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos bring a physical boost in attack and Jamiro Monteiro, Jose Martinez, and Alejandro Bedoya all bring something different to the table in midfield.
Andre Blake’s injury forced Joe Bendik to play in last weekend’s loss in Columbus while youngster Matt Freese played Sunday in the shutout win. Blake is expected to return for the Union’s opening-round playoff match on November 21st, but Freese showed the confidence and ability to play if called upon in the first round.
“We’ll see what happens,”” Curtin said. “Every game has a different bit of analysis and we’ll look at who we play next. New England put about 10-15 crosses into the box each half and we knew that Matt would handle that. I expect Andre to be back for the playoffs, but I also have full confidence in all three of our goalkeepers.”
“All four of us have a nice group together,” Freese said. Its kind of the epitome of the Philadelphia Union, you have Andre who is a world class goalkeeper, you have Joe who knows so much about the game, myself who is a young guy, and a world-renown goalkeeping coach like Phil [Wheddon].”
For now the Union will celebrate their first piece of silverware, but the MLS playoffs are just two weeks away, and now that the Union have something to put in a trophy case, they will turn their attention towards building a collection.