All you need to know about the Union on Decision Day

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Well, here we are again. 

For the fourth time in their existence, the Philadelphia Union stand one game away from their first trophy in club history. However, where the Union’s previous attempts at a trophy came in the form of one-off tournament finals, this time, things are a bit different. 

Instead of a direct battle between two teams in a final, the Union will be competing for silverware while playing in one of thirteen regular season matches on the final Major League Soccer match day. A day aptly dubbed “Decision Day.” The trophy in question? The Supporters Shield, the fan-made trophy awarded to the team that finishes top between both conferences.

So, how do the first place Union secure the Shield? Honestly, it’s pretty straight forward.

Philadelphia win Shield IF:

Philadelphia win… OR Philadelphia draws, AND Toronto draws or loses… OR Philadelphia loses AND Toronto, Portland, and Columbus lose… OR Philadelphia loses AND Toronto loses AND Portland or Columbus win while failing to make up the needed goal differential.

Look, I even made a chart! (assuming no team can catch our goal differential of +14 to the closest club)

I know what you’re thinking. “Surely it can’t be that straightforward?”

No, really, it is. While Major League Soccer would love to confuse you by switching the format to points per game and the tie-breaker to wins per game, it doesn’t matter in the race for the Shield. While the “per game” method will be incredibly useful (and confusing) for seeding teams that haven’t played an equal number of games, the race for the Shield doesn’t have that issue. 

With Seattle dropping all three points to Colorado last Sunday, it ensured that the four remaining teams in contention for the Shield (Philadelphia, Toronto, Columbus, and Portland) would all play the same number of games. Because of this, any “per game” stat becomes arbitrary. In addition, any tie in the standings would circumvent the first tie-breaker of wins per game because of the perfectly balanced stats. Instead, ties would be broken by “goal differential per game”, better known as goal differential for teams who have all played the same number of games.

I know it sounds confusing but really, it’s not. Just follow the chart. 

(Unless something abnormal happens with goal differential then please god ignore the chart.)

Heading into the final matches, the standings look like this.


PPG:  2

WPG: .59

GDPG: +1


PPG: 2

WPG: .59

GDPG: +.036


PPG: 1.81

WPG: 0.52

GDPG: +0.71


PPG: 1.81

WPG 0.52

GDPG +0.57 

Both Columbus and Portland are considered merely as a technicality. For either of them to have a shot at the Shield, they’d need to take six points from two matches, have both the Union and Toronto lose on Decision Day, and close a 10, and 7 point goal differential, respectively, in the process. Not impossible, just not very likely. 

What are your thoughts on the Union’s chances come Sunday?


As noted by many of you, the Union can secure a CONCACAF Champions League spot over the coming few days as well. Columbus is their only competition for the spot, as Toronto are ineligible as a Canadian club.


Columbus drop any points over final two games OR Philadelphia wins or ties Sunday.

Just another exciting possibility heading into the final two match days of a ridiculously bizarre 2020 Major League Soccer regular season.


Philadelphia have since clinched the CCL spot, with Columbus loosing to Orlando on November 4th. The loss additionally eliminated Columbus from Shield contention. Portland has also been eliminated from Shield contention with their loss to Colorado, also on November 4th.






  1. What also excites me is the CCL berth on the line too! Apparantly if Orlando and Columbus draw tonight we get the CCL berth??? That would be nice too, with the extra money and games and chance to develop a real reputation.

  2. I’m all in for the Union win! We will be there cheering on the boys in blue! I feel very positive about this one! The Open Cup game have always seemed a bridge to far! But come Sunday….

  3. Just a nit-pick here but…

    Decision day is not the penultimate day of the season. Penultimate means next to last

  4. In Tanner We Trust says:

    FOr the CCL berth, the exact same tiebreakers as above apply, except that Toronto isn’t in the discussion at all.

    We have all but clinched it, as the issue with POR and COL on GD are the same. It’s “all but” because if the Crew won both games, and the Union lost their game, making up a 7 GD difference wouldn’t be insane.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      I don’t remember writing this comment, so I’ve either started a movement or inspired a copycat. Either way, I’m flattered lol

      • I think there was some issue with the PSP server. I wrote the response to Pete about it not being PPL Park anymore but it somehow autofilled in information for “Fan now from afar” and I clicked submit before realizing it.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        Yeah I’ve had some issues with the site for about a week now, so that would make sense.

      • Best I can tell, the comment did come from you – weird.
        Site should be working better – we were having some small DDoS issues which was crashing the server and causing timeouts.
        If you are still having issues – let us know!

      • I wrote a comment above about qualifying for the CCL and it was attributed to you for some reason too. Not sure what’s going on, but there was no malicious intent on my part.

  5. Fan now from afar says:

    Wouldn’t it just be easiest to just say we win if we at least match Toronto’s result? …which should happen as long as we allow no shots on goal… gotta rant a bit to say the quick post-game interview clip I saw Bendik took no ownership of those goals and just said it was a team effort. Might not reflect the whole interview but not a good look. Fine for a coach or teammate to say that, but for him to say that makes him seem like he’s oblivious to his 1 for 3 shot stopping on the night. Defense allowed the same shots on goal as they did with Toronto. The problem wasn’t the team play though obviously it would’ve been nice to finish the good looks we had. Kudos to their keeper, the keepers decided that game. I saw someone trying to defend bendik’s flap on the second goal. Despite the hesitation it’s like he positioned himself and dove at that ball thinking he was 10 years younger and 20 pounds lighter. I’ve been that defender before, wasn’t the best positioning to let him drift to the back post like that but once a lofted ball enters a certain radius you back off and let the keeper grab it lest you risk a collision. Glesnes’ glare after the goal was totally justified unless Bendik called for him to clear it. I’m not very optimistic about a result against New England, they’re riding high after their last game with a hot Bunbury, some of those wins we had were shaky, as much as I don’t like their coach, he does know his stuff, and defeating a team that many times in a row is going to take something. That something likely includes good goal tending. End rant, thanks.

  6. Orlando is on the same amount of points as the Crew right now.
    The game tonight will knock one of them out if the other wins.
    If they tie they are both out of the Supporters’ Shield running (and Union clinch a CCL spot).

  7. Boy am I happy Red bull is rounding into form.
    For the first time, I’m glad they’re not an absolute trash heap.

  8. Section 114 says:

    We won the CCL spot! Now just match/beat Toronto and we get some hardware.

  9. As a complete side note!
    Thanks Tom for finding the time with a college schedule to write your column! My daughter is in her 2nd year of a masters in fine arts at Tyler school of art! ( Temple ) Please keep up the work! This old guy from Jersey appreciates your work!!

  10. Old Soccer Coach says:

    For those interested and whose brains are precisely tuned to highest efficiency, Wikipedia has an article titled the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
    The Union clinched because only it or Toronto can win the Supporters’ shield, and a Canadian club cannot use the shield to qualify for the CCL.
    Four U. S. teams qualify – MLS Cup winner, Supporter’s Shield winner, US Open Cup Winner, and best record in the conference that did not win the Shleld. If one team wins a double, or the triple, those circumstances are explained.
    The Canadian direct qualifier is the Voyageurs Cup winner, the Canadian Champion.
    Four Mexican teams also qualify directly.
    And the winner of the Caribbean Cup qualifies directly.
    That makes ten direct qualifiers.
    The next six to make the sixteen teams play in something called the Concacaf League. I did not read that article, so cannot help further.

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