Gabe Shertz didn’t even know what the Supporters’ Shield was when he posed for a photo with it more than a decade ago with his dad.
Now with the Philadelphia Union on the verge of winning the trophy, it’s a reminder of how far the team has come in the six years since father, Eric Shertz, died unexpectedly at just 38 years old in May 2014.
“We grabbed a quick photo with (the Supporters’ Shield) and I had no idea what it was at the time,” Shertz said. “Realizing that what is this now 11 years later that we’re actually going to get some of our first hardware is really exciting.”
This isn’t the first time of course that the Union have been on the verge of winning a trophy. They’ve lost three U.S. Open Cup finals — the first two at home in 2014 and 2015 but this trophy is much different than the one awarded for a knockout tournament. It’s one given out by supporters every season to the team with the best regular season record.
“It’s just ironic that, you know, the year that we’re poised to win the Supporters’ Shield of course there are no fans in the stands,” Shertz said.
Shertz will be graduating from Temple University next month with a degree in public relations and is pursuing a career in sports information he says was inspired by his experiences with the Union not just as a fan but also working for the team as he did last season.
“I recently wrote a piece personally just about my career and how I became passionate about it,” he said. “And the Union was a big part of that story. The response to my dad passing, the outreach from the supporters, from the team and just the community around it was overwhelming.”
At the time when Eric died the Sons of Ben and the larger fanbase was going through a challenging period. The team wasn’t winning and the enthusiasm from the first couple years of the team coming to town was starting to disintegrate. The Open Cup runs provided a lift but also a familiar disappointment with three losses in the finals.
Now that the team has fought its way to being considered among the league’s best — this is the third straight year they’ve made the playoffs — the long suffering fans, many with fond memories of supporting the team alongside Eric in the stands, are being rewarded.
For Gabe, the winning and the excitement it has brought back to the fanbase is just icing on the cake.
“This is so much more than just 90 minutes of soccer,” he said. “It’s really changed my life and to still be on people’s minds six years later and to see us on the cusp of winning the Supporters’ Shield and potentially the MLS Cup I’ll admit it’s something I’ve thought about a lot these last six years.”