After 11 long seasons of waiting, the Philadelphia Union have made their first CONCACAF Champions League and won their first trophy: the Supporters’ Shield. Next up comes the MLS Cup Playoffs, an arena that has historically not favored the Union. With only one win under their belt, Philadelphia needs to set some more club history if they want a successful campaign.
At the level that the Union are playing, it’s hard to expect anything short of an MLS Cup victory. The team is playing at the best level that they’ve ever played at, and it’s hard to pinpoint one team that could take them down. They’ve had a consistently good season, and have shown that they can play and beat the best (at least the best in the Eastern Conference, though dominating Toronto sends a message in any conference).
However, history doesn’t favor the MLS Cup landing in Philly. Only four teams have won the Cup and the Shield in the same season since 2000. For context, I wasn’t alive when the Kansas City Wizards achieved that 20 years ago. So yes, it’s pretty rare.
And it’s true, as with past years, all the pundits and Monday morning quarterbacks (are they still called that in soccer?) are choosing the Union to win it all, as they have with other Shield winners. And, as history notes, those pundits are usually proved wrong. Playoffs are a difficult thing to predict, and usually even the experts are wrong.
But this time, I’ll take the Posidelphia approach. The Philadelphia Union are one of the best teams in MLS, if not the best team. They also have home field advantage for the duration of the playoffs, all the way through the MLS Cup Final game. And this Union team is undefeated at home this whole season, and their goal differential playing at Subaru Park is a whopping +20, outscoring opponents 24-4.
And that’s the kicker for the Philadelphia Union’s playoff success: home field advantage. While the Union have had troubles on the road on occasion, (looking at you, Columbus) they’ve always been able to come back home and deliver results. They haven’t even tied at Subaru Park, making them nearly invincible in front of their home crowd, however small that crowd may be.
Single elimination playoffs are never areas to place bets on, and especially MLS Cup playoffs. But if there was a single team that I had to place a bet on, it would be this team. Talk about the Western Conference as much as you like, but the Shield still resides in the East, and so does that 9-0-0 record at Subaru Park.
There’s plenty to look forward to over the next month for Philadelphia fans, just as long as the pundits are right.