The Philadelphia Union are on a different level right now.
Sitting atop the Eastern Conference table, head coach Jim Curtin’s side made light work of newfound US Open Cup winners Orlando City SC Saturday evening, thumping the Lions 5-1 at Subaru Park and extending their winning streak to five games in the process.
It’s been sheer domination from a side that's been borderline unstoppable for two straight months and could earn a second Supporters' Shield title in three years. With three games to go, they've also secured a home game in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words for the amount of times that these players are hitting the back of the net,” Curtin said after the match. “Overall, the players deserve 100 percent of the credit. They have continued to amaze me week-in and week-out.”
Curtin added: “I think it’s important to have multiple ways to win and this group has found that, which is powerful at this stage of the season. We want to keep momentum going, we want to make it hard on LAFC. We’re getting closer to our second goal of the season, which is first place in the Eastern Conference – not an easy thing to do, there’s so many good teams, so many talented players. And again, to be on 63 points at this stage is a testament to how good these players are that [sporting director] Ernst Tanner has given me.”
Supporters' Shield push
A month ago, LAFC had their name all but engraved on the Shield. But Philadelphia are now neck-and-neck with their Western Conference foes, as the Union have a three-point lead atop the overall table heading into Week 31 (the Black & Gold, 2-1 losers at FC Dallas Saturday, have a game in hand).
Regardless of who comes out on top, there will likely 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.
“We are in a good spot now, so we just need to keep this work up and I’m sure that we can win the East and even we have a really good chance to win the Supporters’ Shield as well,” said Dániel Gazdag, who's now on 19g/9a this year. “I hope [LAFC] will lose some games, but yeah, it’s a really good feeling to be there.”
The Hungarian midfielder added: “It’s about the team. Especially at home, we play really good games. We just don’t stop after two or three goals. We try to score as many as we can, and I think this is the good mental way. We have to do it like this the whole season.”
Somewhat overshadowed by their output offensively, the Union have been rock-solid defensively this season, conceding just 22 times in 31 matches. That puts them on pace for the second-best defensive record in league history, only bested by Real Salt Lake's 2010 campaign.
“To not concede goals is obviously the name of the game and it’s something that makes me proud. I think defense is still our foundation as a group. We score a lot of goals, but I still think we score those goals because of the team defending,” Curtin said.
“ ... In a 34-game season, which is what I call the modern league, what they’re doing right now is phenomenal. It’s unprecedented, it’s impressive, and again, I can’t say enough about how hard this team works defensively.”
There’s a clear confidence and energy surrounding the Union right now that’s making them seem unbeatable. That’s certainly the case at Subaru Park this season, as Philadelphia remain the only unbeaten side at home in MLS (11W-0L-5D), riding a 21-match regular-season unbeaten streak.
“Again, a big thank you to the fans. I think what’s going on here is special,” said Curtin. “I think that Subaru Park has become a great place for us to play obviously, but [also] a great place for our fans to have I’d say a party every game. So, we almost feel pressure in that locker room now to produce the same thing game-in and game out.”