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It wasn’t supposed to end this way

The sixth time was the charm for the New England Revolution

New England Revolution v Philadelphia Union: Round One - MLS Cup Playoffs Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Winning MLS Cup was always going to be a tough task for the Philadelphia Union after winning the Supporters’ Shield (only three teams have done it now in 18 seasons).

But as the team entering the postseason with the best regular season record the Philadelphia Union weren’t supposed to bow out on a Tuesday night in front of their home fans after failing to score a goal for the first time since September 23. The Union’s only three shutouts were on the road — a 2-0 loss at FC Dallas to start the season in February and scoreless draws at New England and FC Cincinnati.

Had you even suggested that the Union would get shut out you would have even had New England fans probably disagreeing with you. The team with a plus 24 goal differential getting shut out in the first round at home against an eight seed? No way.

That’s the MLS Playoffs for you. The place Supporters’ Shields go to die.

Sixteen days after celebrating the team’s first trophy with on-field piro, the Union fell flat on their face against a team that carried the momentum of winning a play-in game back to Chester on Tuesday night. It’s a story familiar to American sports of the heavily favored team getting sucker punched by a team playing with house money.

The Union didn’t just get punched though. They got knocked out in the first half and not even the introduction of Ilsinho at halftime could do anything to change the outcome or stop the boos coming from the small gathering of diehard fans in the stands.

The big caveat to what happened in Chester on Tuesday night was the scheduling that helped the Union win their first trophy but in the end took away their chance to even compete for a second. After beating a Revs team for a fourth time to secure a trophy, the Union were faced with the task of beating them (or at least getting to penalties) a fifth time to move a step closer to another one.

The schedule was absurd and objectively unfair — two teams shouldn’t be playing each other a sixth time in a full season much less a shortened one — but that still doesn’t explain how so much of what made the Union so successful navigating the season was missing on Tuesday night.

Sloppy play, poor passes, heavy touches and a lack of discipline in a stretch that saw the Revs build a two-goal lead they would not relinquish. To say they weren’t themselves is an understatement. Instead of regrouping at halftime and making it a contest the final 45 minutes meandered on by with hope fading away by the minute.

As the 2020 season is memorialized in the coming days and weeks, there will be much to celebrate. But there will be plenty of question marks too about what this team will be moving forward and the growth that still needs to occur for this club to avoid a repeat of what happened tonight and finally reach the true pinnacle by which teams are measured: ending the season on top.