A View from Afar / Union

After 13 long years, the Union reach the summit of American soccer

Featured photo: Marjorie Elzey

You’ve waited a long time for this. 

Thirteen seasons. 

And not just normal seasons. These weren’t Atlanta or Austin years. 

Those were long years. From Peter Nowak’s disgrace and that infamous coffin to the U.S. Open Cup kidney punches and “the COVID game,” those Union seasons reminded you that Philadelphia sports fans should expect suffering and pain. 

But now you stand before the mountaintop. A championship is within reach. The 2020 Supporters Shield was an extraordinary achievement, but this year, it’s more than that. The Union tied for the league’s best record, missing the shield only on a (disputable) tiebreaker, and now play for the MLS Cup against shield-winner Los Angeles FC. It’s the first time in 19 years the league’s top two teams play for the cup. 

There should be a sense of grace. Of achievement. Even pride. 

Win or lose, Philadelphia Union have reached the summit of American and Canadian soccer, and they belong. Three straight seasons of excellence. A dynamic duo of the league’s top executive and top coach, MLS’s best starting lineup, and two players in Alejandro Bedoya and Andre Blake who have made this American finally accept the overused British soccer term of “legend.” There’s all the young talent rolling off the YSC assembly line established by American soccer’s most important minority owner, Richie Graham. Even though they’re still not spending enough on their roster, here they are among the best pro teams ever in American and Canadian pro soccer.

At the summit with them stand LAFC, fielding perhaps the most talented roster in MLS history at a stadium offering an extraordinary home field advantage. The Union come in with a puncher’s chance, but they’re facing another puncher with a prime Mike Tyson uppercut. 

The door of history swings on its hinge. 

Philadelphia-area soccer fans won’t ever forget this Union team, but champions are the ones everyone remembers.

This year’s champs won’t be like most years in MLS. The best regular season team rarely wins the playoffs. Seven teams have won the double of both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, but only three in the modern era of MLS (post-Beckham/DPs) and just one in the last decade: 2017 Toronto FC, generally viewed as the best team in MLS history. 

This year, whoever wins the cup can claim a double. Should LAFC win, it’s indisputable. Should the Union win, one could argue they deserved the Supporters’ Shield: MLS’s tiebreaker of wins gave the shield to LAFC, but in nearly every other league in the world, the team with greater goal differential wins, and that’s the Union. 

Union captain Alejandro Bedoya. (Photo: Marjorie Elzey)

The Union go in as underdogs on the road because of that tiebreaker.

Their captain, Alejandro Bedoya, is injured, and despite a great comeback against NYC FC in the Eastern Conference final, his team has not performed at the level they did when he was healthy. Under normal circumstances, he should miss this match. We all saw him hobble painfully through the Eastern Conference final while recording more touches than any teammate.

But Bedoya is not normal. He is the heart, soul, and engine of a working class club that leaves its blood and sweat on the pitch every week. Put money down that he will step on that field despite the injury. When he does, respect it. Mo Edu did the same for the Union in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup final and effectively sacrificed his career for it, because his body never recovered. Bedoya may do the same. Hip injuries are unkind.

We all understand this is as it should be for Philadelphia. The deck has been stacked, just like always. The glamour, money, and talent of Los Angeles await. 

Now it’s time for the league’s best defense to step up. 

For Jakob Glesnes to load his rocket. 

For Cory Burke to start his steamroller.

For the three-headed attack monster to begin target practice. 

And for Andre Blake to be the wall. 

The Union and their fans have endured some awful depths over the years. This team has overcome that to reach this point, and if they win the cup, it will taste all the sweeter.

Now —

Release the Martinez.


Union fans at Eastern Conference final. (Photo: Stephen Speer)


  1. Frustrating the big swing in outlook dictated by MLS’ tiebreaker rule (flip the game to Subaru Park, and we’d no doubt be the betting favorite). Tough to not use a neutral site for a single game final, but this team’s special and won’t back down from a big moment. What a ride to get to this point, and i can’t wait to watch them play tomorrow! C’mon the U!

  2. Nice to have you back, Dan!

  3. A bit off topic but perhaps the loyal readers here can lend some assistance. When the Union won the ECF on Sunday night, I purchased my ticket for MLS Cup even before I was out of the stadium. I received the confirmation E-Mail and the charge showed up on my credit card.
    I am flying out to L.A. soon and I still have not received my ticket! Of course, that is a bit unnerving. I have E-Mailed my season ticket rep and called not only her but also the stadium and front office. No responses from anyone.
    So the big question is this. Any fans here going to the game tomorrow and have you received your tickets yet?
    Thank you for any information you may have.

  4. My question is, if the Union win Saturday, which means more to people here, the 2020 Shield or the 2022 Cup? For me it is the Shield because I was one of the lucky few who were able to attend in person that day and be there for the team to celebrate but I can understand others feel differently.
    If tomorrow’s game was in Chester in front of a packed house, that would take over as the number one moment for me (even though it would have been bittersweet as my wife is out of town at a funeral and wouldn’t be there). But given that it is on the road, I’m not sure that it will feel the same, even though I’m planning on watching it on the big screen at Subaru Park. Of the games where the Union have had a chance to come back with hardware, this will be the second that I’ve missed being there in person (since technically they could have clinched the Shield a week earlier in Columbus and I wasn’t there), but unfortunately, a trip to LA wasn’t in the cards this week.
    I certainly understand that others may disagree, especially those who weren’t at the game in 2020, but I’m curious as to how others feel.

    • Andy I will never forget last week against NYC and lifting the conference trophy. The stadium literally bouncing in delight.

    • Gruncle Bob says:

      Winning the Shield is a greater accomplishment than winning a 14-team one-off tournament.
      It’s the Shield for me, but of course I, along with everyone else, want both.

    • The shield will also feel the most special, because it came first, and we were there to witness it in person. But i really want the cup. For better or for worse, that’s what gets you parades, hats,t-shirts, and the one the broader US audience recognizes.

  5. STH since year 2. Been there through it all. The suck, the dustbowls, Hackworth, Cruz, “he who shall not be named”…. the list goes on and on. I was there for the US Open Cup loss. I was there for the Covid bowl.
    I can’t wait for Saturday. I can’t wait to see what happens next month. I can’t wait to see what happens next year.

  6. soccerdad720 says:

    Nice article Dan, thank you.

    Original STH here. …I was in the first 200 or so to put down my “Benjamin”. Yeah…$100 down got you a shot at season tix.

    I’ll be at the SOOB on Saturday, in the seats I’ve had since the start (minus the first few Linc games).

    I couldn’t go to LA, I figured the second best place to be when they lifted the cup would be my seats.

    Go Union.

    • I’ve always wondered what number I was for putting the deposit down. The Union rented out space from my old company’s office in the power plant, so I had it down within 5 minutes of the official announcement.
      I’ll be at Subaru Park on Saturday as well.

  7. “Release the Martinez”!! Love that! And if we see the version of him when he was introduced at this stadium, against this foe, they will never forget us and what we did to them!

  8. The 2 are intertwined for me. PSP and the Union.I found them at the same time. Maybe the team a bit before. Great to read your words again Mr. Walsh. Just like the olden times. So many memories of different things, people in the stands,the rollercoaster that is sport fandom! As for tomorrow’s game. I’ll be recording it. We will be at a family celebration of marriage for our niece and her hubby. As these are the games that matter the most,the game of life and relationships. I’ll be playing good Uncle and only checking in for up dates. Enjoy the Soob everyone! I’ll be with you in spirit!

  9. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Typical Philly. Typical Union. 10 FORKING MINUTES OF STOPPAGE??? Andre Blake…goalie of the regular season, not when it truly counts the most. Fork you, Andre. This is the kind ofoss that sends a franchise into the abyss like it did the Phillies after Joe Carter sent his dagger through their hearts. This is the end of the U as viable franchise. MONEYBALL DOESN’T WORK.

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