Philadelphia Union eye MLS Cup next: "The real season starts now"


For the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, the Philadelphia Union clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a convincing 4-0 win Sunday over Toronto FC on Decision Day.

It's the second time in three seasons they've finished atop the East, following their Supporters' Shield victory in 2020. CF Montréal made things hairy with their own 3-1 win at Inter Miami CF, but the two-point margin remained.

"We did our job," said Hungarian midfielder Daniel Gazdag, who scored a hat-trick in the win. "Hopefully the fans enjoyed it."

The Union have certainly gave their supporters plenty to enjoy this season. Their +46 goal difference is the best in MLS by a significant margin, as are their 72 goals scored. A crucial part of that production was Gazdag, who scored 22 goals and added 10 assists, finishing just one goal out of the Golden Boot presented by Audi lead behind Nashville SC's Hany Mukhtar.

"To be honest, I scored a little bit more than I planned before the season," Gazdag laughed. His aim of double-digit goals + assists was well surpassed.

The Union are ripe with year-end award candidates, with head coach Jim Curtin touting Andre Blake for Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year; defenders Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott for Best XI presented by Continental inclusions; and Gazdag for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP.

"When a team does what we've done this year, these guys need to be singled out and rewarded for it," said Curtin.

The Union made the Eastern Conference Final a year ago, though fell to eventual winners New York City FC after missing several key starters to COVID-19 protocols. That's lit a hunger in Curtin's squad.

"The real season starts now," the longtime manager pointed out. "We're smart enough to know that history won't remember us unless we take a big step forward in the playoffs and get to our first MLS Cup, and hopefully win it. ... If you don't do it in the big moment, you get forgotten."

The Union have the luxury of watching Round One of the playoffs from home, their place in the Eastern Conference Semifinals automatically secured. They'll face the winners of No. 4 New York Red Bulls vs. No. 5 FC Cincinnati, with MLS Cup 2022 hosting priority possibly running through Subaru Park if LAFC dip out in the Western Conference.

But they're also wary of the dangers of time off while their competition continue their rhythm and gain confidence.

"We recognize that in 10 days from not, if we're not ready, it's all over. And then nothing feels worse than that," Curtin said wryly.

"I'm giving them two days, maybe, to read the headlines of how good they were, because they were pretty damn good. But then it's right back to work. In an elimination game, anything can happen, so we need to be ready."