Philly head coach Jim Curtin isn’t convinced the Black & Gold’s lull in form is permanent, though, even as head coach Steve Cherundolo integrates new attacking pieces like Cristian Tello and Denis Bouanga to a team that seemed in cruise control, possibly in another stratosphere, for much of the 2022 campaign.
“LAFC are in a tough run of form, but they have so much quality," Curtin said. "I'm sure they'll bounce back and Steve's a great coach too and will get them back on track. We have to put pressure on them and be there. If they do slip up, that's our goal [to pass them].”
LAFC and Philadelphia are the first two teams to book an Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs ticket, having battled to a 2-2 draw back on May 7 at Banc of California Stadium. Both clubs are now tied on 57 points atop the overall league table, though the Black & Gold have played one less game with just over a month left in the regular season.
Curtin said that Philadelphia, who are the league’s only undefeated team at home (10W-0L-5D) this year and boast the league’s best goal differential (+40) and defense (20 goals allowed), are next looking to finish atop the Eastern Conference table. That ensures East playoff games – and possibly MLS Cup on Nov. 5 – must come through Subaru Park, where Philadelphia carry a 20-match regular-season unbeaten streak.
Whatever awaits, Curtin doesn't doubt the importance of the Supporters’ Shield. Further, its winner earns a 2023 Concacaf Champions League spot.
“In the rest of the world, the Shield is the champion,” Curtin said. “So we put a lot of stock in trying to go for the Supporters' Shield. It's important for the fans, obviously, it shows that you were the best team through a 34-game grind with travel, with testing injuries, with national team call-ups. You were the best the entire year, so I think it means a ton.”
There could be a repeat Shield winner this fall, with LAFC winning in 2019 while setting a then-record for single-season points (72) and Philadelphia winning in 2020 when the schedule was shortened due to constraints around the COVID-19 pandemic.
Curtin, whose team has just five matches remaining compared to LAFC’s six, recognizes a photo finish could await.
“We have won one before and to add another to our trophy case would be huge,” Curtin said. “We'll do everything we can to make it as hard as possible for LAFC. They have a tricky schedule, no question about it. They have great players though and they have a great coach."
In Week 29, Philly visit the New York Red Bulls on Saturday evening (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) before LAFC host Real Salt Lake to close the Sunday slate (10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). Neither team is expected to take their foot off the pedal.
“We're going to go full speed ahead for every game, every point," Curtin said. "We're not going to stop or rest guys or rotate in games just to give guys minutes. Every minute is going to be earned from guys and we'll reward them accordingly and try to win every match that we step on the field.”