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Wait over: Long suffering Union fans finally celebrate hardware

Masks and distancing couldn’t mute the enthusiasm for fans witnessing history in Chester Sunday night

Rob Whipple (left) and Gary Epis celebrate the Union winning the Supporters’ Shield
Matt Ralph

It wasn’t a full house of 18,000-plus screaming fans celebrating, but that didn’t make the magnitude of the Philadelphia Union finally winning a trophy feel any less significant to those fans fortunate enough to witness them lifting the Supporters’ Shield on Sunday.

“We’ve been waiting for this for so long,” said Gary Epis as he was taking in the celebration in the stands at Subaru Park. “Ten years from the very beginning coming to every game practically. Three Open Cup finals and we lost them all it was like ahhhhh this feels so good.”

Like so many fans who have supported the team since their founding in 2010, Epis and Rob Whipple, who live in Fishtown, have traveled to games in Chester wondering when they might see the team win something.

That moment came a few minutes before the final whistle blew in Chester when the New York Red Bulls defeated Toronto FC but the 2-0 win for the Union over New England playing in front of their home fans made the moment ever so special. The Union finished the shortened season with a perfect 9-0-0 record at home.

SOCCER: NOV 08 MLS - New England Revolution at Philadelphia Union Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Instead of images of the Seattle Sounders or Sporting Kansas City celebrating a trophy on the pitch like they did after winning the 2014 and 2015 U.S. Open Cups, it was the Philadelphia Union lifting the Supporters’ Shield with confetti flying and fireworks shooting off in the middle of the field.

“It’s a validation of driving down here, putting the time in to be here all these years,” Whipple said. “It feels like an actual franchise now.”

While the Supporters’ Shield trophy didn’t arrive in time for the post-game ceremony (it arrived Monday), Sons of Ben President Matt Gendaszek and Vice President Jess Gusler did the honors of presenting a replica shield fashioned out of a Captain America cosplay shield to the players on the field.

“It’s definitely surreal,” Gendaszek said after leaving the field. “The team that had fans before there was a team wins the only trophy in American sports that’s given from the fans. If that’s not poetry I don’t know what is; it’s a special night.”

SOCCER: NOV 08 MLS - New England Revolution at Philadelphia Union
Sons of Ben President Matt Gendaszek and Vice President Jess Gusler walking the replica Supporters’ Shield out to the players
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Several fans stayed long after the ceremony to cheer on the team as they continued to savor the moment on the field. At one point, Jose Martinez ran over to the Keystone Ultras supporters section in the corner of the Supporters Entrance side of the River End and started waving their blue and white flag.

“We all have stories that revolve around this club, whether that’s away games or tailgates or anything,” said KSU member Andrew Sherlock. “But winning the first silverware and being there in the stadium to see it in the times we’re in is a story we’ll all be telling for years.”

While fans weren’t flowing out of the exits and partying in the parking lot, the relative calm scene outside the stadium was broken up by an impressive display of fireworks set off by some fans in the parking lot outside the Wharf Building, which houses the team’s corporate offices. Fans unable to get tickets celebrated the way we’ve all marked a lot of occasions over the last eight months, via online video platforms, social media and countless texts and phone calls among friends.

Alex Robillard and Brigid Peachy, who drove up from Silver Spring, Maryland to be there to cheer on the blue and gold, were still processing it all as they walked through an empty Subaru Plaza on the way back to their car.

“It’s still a little shocking that they did it,” Robillard said. “But Covid or not I don’t think it matters, they were the best team in MLS this year. I’m just sad we couldn’t all be here together to celebrate it.”

The evening capped an eventful weekend locally that included Joe Biden being declared the winner of the presidential election with Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes pushing him over the top. That night, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris gave their victory speech in nearby Wilmington, Del.

“I’m just extremely proud of the team; it’s a big weekend for Philadelphia,” Peachy said. “The team really came out and just showed their fans how much they care about them. Put some respect on their name, they did amazing.”