With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Supporters' Shield has taken what looks like a decisive twist: The Philadelphia Union can all but clinch their first piece of silverware in club history with one more win from their two remaining regular season matches.
For Philadelphia, Wednesday's victory was a gritty one. The Fire, despite being reduced to 10 men, played the Union close and nearly scored a stoppage-time equalizer. It was clear, according to Union head coach Jim Curtin, that the stakes were weighing on his players.
"You could feel a little bit more pressure, which always makes everyone play a little bit different, a little bit tense at the beginning of the game," Curtin said after the match. "[We] weren’t ourselves to start, but then kind of came into the game and made some decent plays and created some chances. ... I can’t say enough just how proud I am of the players, their resiliency, their ability to adjust, adapt, and embrace any new challenge that comes their way."
Highlights: Philadelphia Union 2, Chicago Fire 1
The Union close out the season with games at the Columbus Crew on Sunday and then at home to the New England Revolution on Decision Day presented by AT&T. Philly defender/midfielder Jack Elliott made it clear there's work to be done before the team can celebrate a trophy.
"Obviously, it’s an exciting prospect [winning the Shield] and we’re all excited about that, but I think the important thing is just to go into the next game and play the way we play," Elliott said. "I’m sure if we play how we know we can play, play well, then that’s going to take care of itself."
While the Union are in pole position for the Supporters' Shield, Toronto's chances to win it are dwindling after their second straight loss, which followed a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the Union in Week 20.
TFC have now suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in nine games, and they have not scored in those two defeats. It marks a screeching halt to a strong run of form, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.
"We didn't put out the effort and get the representation of ourselves that we wanted in Philadelphia [last week]," Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said after his team's loss to NYCFC. "That was evident, we lift our hand, we say, 'We weren't there on that night.' That happened. We're allowed that over the course of 19 games in the crap that we're going through. We're allowed to have a bad night. We had a bad night, so end it."
Vanney attributes the recent run of form to an injury crisis and the wear and tear of a 2020 season, which has him focused first and foremost on getting his players healthy again for the postseason.
"At this point it's a little bit of do you continue to risk guys and lose guys for the short term and anybody you lose at this point, you're probably going to lose for even the playoffs," Vanney said.
"So the question is how do we get our team healthy without losing more guys in this last stretch? If we can win the Supporters' Shield in that process, then that's what we're going to try and do. We're not giving up on [the Shield], but we are what we are right now as a group and we have what we have."
It's a completely different vibe for the Union, who are getting closer to what would be the club's biggest achievement, Curtin said it is all he and the team can think about.
"It’s on everybody’s mind," Curtin said. "Every minute of the 90 certainly and then after the games. Everybody’s scoreboard watching."