MLS: The Patient Approach Has Finally Paid Off for Jim Curtin and Philadelphia Union

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Since their formation in 2010, Philadelphia Union have largely been regarded as ‘also-rans’ in Major League Soccer. Prior to 2020, the two-time US Open Cup finalists have finished no higher than third in the Eastern Conference, and have also failed to progress beyond the first round of the end-of-season play-offs.

However, Jim Curtin’s side have been slowly improving year-on-year, and their consistency was finally rewarded with the franchise securing their maiden Supporters Shield at the beginning of November. It was the club’s first-ever piece of silverware, and they will head into the post-season with plenty of confidence. 

Their form at Subaru Park was absolutely exceptional, claiming twelve victories in all competitions in Pennsylvania. It was a truly unconventional campaign, which was heavily disrupted and also included the inaugural mid-season MLS is Back Tournament, which was won by the Portland Timbers. As the final standings were determined by points-per-game, some Major League Soccer fans may argue that Philly aren’t true Supporters Shield winners, whilst others may be tempted to stick an asterisk next to their name in the record books, however, Curtin’s men were clearly the best side in the competition, and thoroughly deserve their moment in the sun. 

Although the squad may lack any star names, team spirit and home-grown talent has been the key to their long-awaited success. Mark McKenzie and Anthony Fontana have both been excellent this season, whilst Kacper Przybylko has scored eight times and provided five assists. Corey Burke made just five appearances, yet still managed to find the net twice, and although a broken hand may force him to miss the postseason play-offs, goalkeeper Andre Blake continues to be one of the best stoppers in the competition. RB Salzburg-bound Brenden Aaronson will need replacing next season, but Curtin’s penchant for developing young players will surely allow this hugely talented squad to take another significant step forward in 2021. 

Their trophy-winning exploits have prompted mass celebrations amongst fans, but many supporters are understandably disappointed that they’ve been unable to attend the majority of games this season. Although they haven’t been able to witness their side in action, some will have been able to make a visit to the stadium in the recent weeks, with Subaru Park having been converted into a pop-up voting center throughout the build-up to the 2020 US Election. Major League Soccer has played a pivotal role in encouraging sports fanatics to cast their vote, with the likes of Bob Bradley, Kei Kamara and the aforementioned McKenzie all imploring fans to have their say. TV news channels saw their audience figures rocket at the beginning of November, whilst online bookmakers also witnessed a notable rise in the number of users browsing the latest politics betting offers throughout the election period. 

McKenzie has a bright future in the game, and Curtin will be hoping to retain the services of the talented 21-year old next season. Philadelphia Union haven’t spent vast sums of cash in order to make progress, and have taken a far more organic approach to team-building, which appears to be finally paying off. Patience has been key to their success this year, and although the 2020 season proved to be the most unconventional campaign in the history of MLS, the Union still managed to secure their first-ever piece of silverware, and that success is thoroughly deserved. 

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