A View from Afar / Commentary / Union

No Supporters’ Shield means the Union will win it, right?

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

If you had any doubt that this was Philadelphia Union’s year, confirmation just came in.

The Supporters’ Shield Foundation announced Saturday it will not award the shield to the team with the best record in MLS this year because, well … reasons.

Putting aside their argument — they didn’t really articulate one, so it’s fair — you as Union fans should be overjoyed.

This pretty much guarantees the Union will finish with the best record in MLS.

Right? Right?

In this strange, awful year, you can’t even get mad. Of course it would play out this way. You’re a Philly sports fan. You get it. You just have to sit back and laugh helplessly. 

Then you can appreciate this shining light in a sordid year.

The Union have the league’s second best record.

They’ve scored the most goals in the Eastern Conference (i.e. teams that don’t get to play San Jose) and have its best goal differential.

They just broke the league record for highest transfer fee on a homegrown player going abroad and finally secured proof of concept on their developmental model.

And now Cory Burke got a visa? (Free Keon, by the way.)

Seriously, are you not entertained?

Are you really going to sit back and complain about Jim Curtin not playing Anthony Fontana enough instead of saying, “Wow, Fontana is playing lights out, it’s a good thing Curtin pushed him to play defense so he could earn playing time!”

In perhaps the most surreal turn of events, Curtin is now the league’s second longest tenured coach. Who saw that coming six years ago?

Curtin could have gone the way of Ben Olsen, his recently fired contemporary.

Instead, Curtin learned and evolved, sometimes not quickly enough for some people’s tastes, but effectively enough to make him one of the best coaches in MLS today. He has gone from the coach who seemingly didn’t believe in substitutions to the one who gets more goals off the bench than any other team in MLS. We’ve seen him progress from bus-parking counterattacker to possession game champion to high-pressing believer, all based on the tools and marching orders given to him. How many other coaches have you seen evolve and win with multiple styles like this?

Goodness, what a season. From a 3-3 draw with LAFC so epic that MLS closed down the season for four months after it — seriously, you know you prefer that version — there’s never been a season so full of just … well, shrugging, shaking your head, and saying, “WTF?”

Yeah, seriously. This is the year.

Some other thoughts

You probably thought I wasn’t watching. Well, I wasn’t, for a while. But I recorded those games, avoided the soccer news, and then watched about a half dozen matches over the course of two weeks.

So … much … fun. (And I didn’t even get the Miami, Red Bull and DCU blowouts on TV.)

You should try it sometime.

Check that. You shouldn’t. You should be able to go to games without fear of contracting an oft-fatal virus.

But if ever there is another worldwide pandemic that —

No, never mind. Don’t try this at home, kids. But trust me: It was fun.

The relationships behind Aaronson’s transfer

$6 million transfer fee?

With $3 million in additional incentives? And sell-on fees?

Ernst Tanner outdid himself. 

You can see the fingerprints of relationships all over this deal with Red Bull Salzburg. Remember, Tanner was Salzburg’s academy director before joining the Union. Salzburg coach Jesse Marsch and Curtin are friends, former teammates, and former coaching rivals. And Salzurg play a similar style as the Union.

Aaronson’s future looks bright, and we still don’t even know what his best position is. He’s a creative attacker who doesn’t touch the ball enough for a No. 10, but when he does, fun things happen. It will be fascinating to follow his career.

Like so, it will be interesting to see how Curtin uses him the rest of the season. Aaronson’s shop window is unimportant now. All that matters is winning. Consider this: Are the Union a better team with Aaronson or Jamiro Monteiro at the No. 10? 

And how will the Union replace Aaronson? Will Fontana step into his starting spot? Will the Union go out and acquire a true playmaker? (Fontana is not one, but how many players have you seen who can release a shot as quickly as he can?)

So many questions, but right now, one answer they do have is that Aaronson remains in town for the final stretch run.

That makes this team a contender for MLS Cup.

Free Keon III: Bring back Martinez

Speaking of the Free Keon movement, every Union fan should say a prayer:

Please let Jose Martinez, aka the Tasmanian Devil in cleats, back into the country after his international duty. No quarantines or sickness. No xenophobes. No inexplicable visa problems. Amen.

(I’ll grant that saying a prayer to God about a devil seems a bit off, but hey, the Tasmanian Devil is not an actual devil, Martinez is the most defensive midfield fun I’ve had since Roger Espinoza’s long hair days, and, well … where is Adam Cann with a good non sequitur when I need one?)

Ray Gaddis

The Union are a better team with Ray Gaddis starting at right back.

Thank you, have a good day, and enjoy your Philadelphia Union.

Last note

For years, the only Twitter account I used was PSP’s account, and that was good enough. Well, I finally caved in and got a Twitter account because, well, I’m trying to sell the novel(s) I’ve written and apparently Twitter matters for that. So, if you’re interested and want to help make me look a bit better to literary agents, go follow me at @danwalsh_writes. Then I can also justify talking soccer with you there when I don’t have time to write for PSP, which has been most of the time this year. What can I say? I miss you guys.


  1. He’s alive…great to hear from you!

    As long as there is incentive money and a place in CCL on the line for the best record I will continue to expect the Union to go in the lead over the next few weeks only to end the season with a loss and drop to second by 1 point. Been doing this too long to expect otherwise. Plus, it would be soooooo much fun to be wrong.

  2. This headline was my exact thought when I saw the announcement. Well done for turning it into this article. Made me laugh a few times.
    Some good zingers in there, too. For example:
    “Are you really going to sit back and complain about Jim Curtin not playing Anthony Fontana enough instead of saying, “Wow, Fontana is playing lights out, it’s a good thing Curtin pushed him to play defense so he could earn playing time!”

  3. Had the same thought immediately upon reading the Supporters Shield news, Dan. Good to hear from you.

  4. #thatssophilly

  5. Union just paid $8,333 GAM per game to have Cory Burke available to play in the final five regular season games and at least one playoff match.
    Montreal gave the slot. Union gave the $50 K GAM.
    Good to hear from you, Dan.

  6. OneManWolfpack says:

    Free Keon! brought back some memories. That was cool.
    Followed you on Twitter too… so sell those books!!
    And yes… of course the Union will finish first because there is no actual trophy to win. I wouldn’t think it would happen any other way.
    Good article. Glad to read your stuff again

  7. The foundation did give a reason for cancelling the Shield, in follow up tweets. The bottom line is that the clubs’ schedules are grossly imbalanaced, and they may not all play the same number of matches. On top of the fact that there are very little supporters live in the stadiums.
    I accept these reasons. Really, the Supporters’ Shield stopped making sense back when MLS changed to an unbalanced schedule a few years ago. There should be two Shields, one for each conference.
    At least the Champions League berth isn’t going away. Union might not get that hardware. but they still have a chance for playing some international soccer next year.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I actually wouldn’t mind if they didn’t award it this year either. I think the issue people have is the way it was decided was apparently by a small group of people with no input from others. I think MLS has to figure a way to help make the Supporters Shield relevant by TRYING to balance the schedule in some way. I enjoy the history of the Shield and I don’t want it to go away, but it’s becoming more and more irrelevant as the unbalanced seasons go on. The idea of two Shields, one for each conference would be good, if the schedule ends up getting (more) balanced by conference. With 15 teams in each conference very soon, 14 x 2 games (home and away) + rotating Western opponents, that would actually work pretty well. Best record within the conference wins that Shield.

      • I think they should retire the Supporter’s Shield and award conference titles to the top-of-the-table team in each conference rather than claim its the MLS Cup finalist. You could solve the imbalanced schedule by keeping a table that counts only inter-conference games. It would be complicated, though such complications seem to be right up MLS’s alley. The way MLS is set up, there’s never going to be a balanced sched. But you could have a traditional home and home league set-up withing the conference.

    • What does a balanced schedule have to do with supporters? Why in their minds does not being able to go to a stadium = a fan not supporting their team? If the Supporters shield wasn’t a joke before, it is now. They sunk themselves with this move. I barely cared before. Now I down right dislike them with a passion. I hope they do travel next year. It’ll be good to laugh in their faces.

    • I only saw the follow up tweets later, and while I still don’t like the decision, it’s much more reasonable than their initial reasoning about a lack of supporters in the stands. The latter just sounds like petulant whining.

  8. So good to hear from you, Dan! Column is spot-on, as usual. We need more of them because we missed you.

    And as a guy who recently found an agent for his own first novel, I am right there with your literary ambitions! Gonna go follow you on Twitter right now to help bolster your author platform.

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