For the first time in club history, the Philadelphia Union are headed to the Concacaf Champions League.
With Columbus Crew SC's 2-1 loss to Orlando City SC in Week 23, the Crew were eliminated from contention for the Supporters' Shield, awarded to the team with the best record during the regular season. That ensures the Union will be the highest-ranked U.S.-based team in the 2020 Shield race and thus securing the CCL spot awarded annually to the Shield winner or top-ranked U.S.-based club.
Although Canada-based Toronto FC are the other team still in contention for the Shield, they are only eligible to clinch a CCL spot by winning the Canadian Championship.
"To have clinched that is very big for the club," head coach Jim Curtin said on a virtual press conference Thursday. "It puts us on the international stage, which will be a great experience for our players. … It’s an incredible honor to the club and the people who worked so hard to achieve it. We just missed out on it last year, but as you’ve seen this club keeps taking steps forward in the last five seasons. It’s a good achievement and we’re very proud.”
“We’re in CCL, it’s a great sign where the club is headed," club captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "Since I got here, we’ve just continually improved. It’s a credit to everybody at the club.”
It's a milestone moment for a Philadelphia side that is already in the midst of their best MLS season. The Union have a chance at their first major trophy if they can bag the Shield on Decision Day, and will go into it knowing they've already clinched their spot in the prestigious tournament.
In a normal year, three of the 16 CCL berths go to the winners of the Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with the last going to the regular-season winner of the conference opposite the Shield winner. This year, the Portland Timbers were awarded the latter berth which was reassigned as a prize to the victor of the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.
2021 Champions League berths
- MLS is Back Tournament winners: Portland Timbers
- Shield winners (only US-based clubs): Philadelphia Union
- U.S. Open Cup winners: TBD (tournament not staged in 2020)
- MLS Cup winners: TBD
- Canadian Championship winners: Toronto FC to face Forge FC for berth