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A job well done, but far from finished

Photo by Paul Rudderow

In a year where we’ve needed it more than ever before, the Philadelphia Union have delivered the most inspiring, uplifting, and positive regular season in their history.

The Union won the Supporter’s Shield. Undoubtedly 2020 was a season with unique challenges, but those challenges effected every team. So there is no asterisk big enough to take away the fact that the Union faced those challenges better than any other team in the league.

Andre Blake has won his second MLS Keeper of the Year award. Somehow only his second, but enough to bring him even with his countryman Donovan Ricketts. Interestingly he’s only the second keeper to earn the award twice for the same team, the previous being Pat Onstad with the Quakes in 2003 and 2005.

And now Jim Curtin has been recognized as the 2020 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year. Remembering the popularity of the #CloseTheCurtin narrative a few years back is the only way to contextualize that achievement. Safe to say that many minds have been changed regarding MLS’ second longest-tenured coach.

Brenden Aaronson is set to be transferred to Red Bull Salzburg for a record fee (with even more to follow if certain performance records are met), and there’s rumors around Mark McKenzie and Kai Wagner give reason to the idea that he might not be the only big sale for the Union.

And the team looked good while doing all of this. Remember the game against LAFC, five years ago in March 2020? Remember the excitement, the awe at the fireworks on display during that late, late game? That was the best version of the Union we’d ever seen. Never mind the fact that it was also probably the best game LAFC played in 2020, they went to the home of a team the entire league knew could beat them, and they didn’t back down. They took the MLS is Back Tournament seriously, and did so while carrying the message of Black Lives Matter on their literal backs. When play returned to home markets they approached the competition with a level of professionalism other teams simply couldn’t match. At no point did it feel like the Union couldn’t win, despite Toronto FC keeping the Shield race interesting all the way to Decision Day. There was no “Cliff of Union Despair“, this team was always good enough to be the best team in the league.

So we can go ahead and pack it in now. We can declare without fear of contradiction, that 2020 was a successful season for the Philadelphia Union.

A successful season.

Season.

See that really is the rub. This has been, unequivocally and unquestionably, a successful season. But this is MLS, the top-flight soccer league of the United States of America (and Canada). We like our seasons, we talk about great seasons, and we organize our sports calendars around the open and close of said seasons.

But we also have post-seasons.

And post-seasons, that’s what actually matters. Ask any NFL fan about a perfect season, and they’ll talk to you about the Miami Dolphins of 1972. They won’t mention The Chicago Bears of 1934 of 1942. They¬†might mention the New England Patriots of 2007, but only as a tired punchline. Why? Because none of those team won the championship for that season. They were good teams, they had great seasons, but they didn’t seal it with a championship so they’re relegated to the footnotes of history.

It doesn’t matter that other leagues in other nations, playing the same game by the same rules, see winning the league as the definitive achievement. They also use the metric system, drink warm beer, and include tax in the shelf pricing at stores. Whichever side is better or worse is irrelevant to this conversation, the simple truth is that they do things one way, and we here in North America do it another way.

Maybe some of that can change, maybe some of it should change. But it hasn’t yet changed. So while this week has been a delightful island of contentment in the ongoing horror show that has been 2020, the work is not yet done.

The Union enter the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs with significant advantages on their side. Most notably home field advantage all the way to the MLS Cup Final regardless of how the playoff bracket plays out. While that advantage looks a little different in 2020, it’s value cannot be overstated for a team that has a perfect 9-0-0 record at Subaru Park. And they have the confidence of being a team that got it done in the regular season, scared to face no team home or away.

So bask in the happiness, enjoy the rewards of a well-played season and well-earned recognition. And face the playoffs with confidence, knowing this team could make 2020 the eighth year in MLS history that the Supporter’s Shield winner has also won MLS Cup. But know that whatever achievements, whatever recognition or accolades the team has received thus far, they pale in comparison to what can be achieved after just four more games. Failing to get it done wouldn’t undo the achievements of the regular season, but it would be an indelible mark against the team when we look back in years to come.

One Comment

  1. If the league is maintaining mandatory quarantine rules for players returning from international duty then anyone who considers the playoffs more important that the regular season is a moron given that random top players won’t be available to top teams due to the way the league scheduled the playoffs.
    .
    If Monteiro and Mbaizo test negative for the next week, I think the Union should put both of them in the lineup and let the league try to disqualify them from playoffs.

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