In anticipation of the final whistle, every player on the Philadelphia Union bench stood on the edge of the sideline huddled together.
When they heard it, bedlam ensued.
They sprinted out to the midfield in a mad dash and kick-started a wild celebration. Ray Gaddis, the longest tenured player on the team, knelt on the ground in prayer near midfield, and was interrupted by teammates who piled on top of him.
This was obviously not your typical postgame celebration. Then again, this was not your typical game.
With their 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution on Sunday at Subaru Park, the Union won the MLS Supporters’ Shield, which is awarded to the team that finishes with the best record in the regular season.
The Union ended the year 14-4-5 and will be the No. 1 seed in the postseason.
“This is called a Supporters’ Shield for a reason,” captain Alejandro Bedoya said during the trophy presentation on the field. “You have waited for this for a long time. We finally got that over with.”
The team began the day tied with Toronto FC but held the tie-breaker, which is goal differential. They just needed to win, or at minimum, stay even with Toronto to clinch the Shield. The Red Bulls did the Union a favor by beating Toronto, 2-1, on Sunday.
“Good things happen in Philadelphia, first and foremost,” Gaddis said to the crowd. “Let’s keep it real. Without the fans, there is no team here. This Supporters’ Shield is for you.”
As the top seed, the Union earned home field advantage throughout the MLS Cup Playoffs. Also because of winning the Shield they claimed a berth in the Concacaf Champions League, tentatively scheduled for early 2021. That is something they already qualified for because it was only them and Toronto, who can only qualify for the Champions League by winning the Canadian Championship.
Earning home field advantage is the biggest takeaway from the historic night, though. The Union have their sights set on much bigger hardware.
They want to win the MLS Cup.
And now, they put themselves in a prime position to achieve their lofty goal. The playoffs, including the MLS Cup, will go through Subaru Park, where the Union are 9-0 this season.
“We have a lot more to do in this stadium,” Union coach Jim Curtin said during the presentation. “We don’t lose here, and that is because of you guys.”
Sergio Santos put the Union on the board in the 41st minute with a goal off a rebound. Jamiro Monteiro sent a corner kick into the box, which was cleared right back to him. He passed the ball to Jakob Glesnes, who was standing near the corner of the 18.
Glesnes floated the ball into the middle of the box, where Bedoya headed it off the crossbar. As the ball was in the air, the two closest Rev defenders stood still.
Santos, who was between them, took two steps toward the goal, which allowed him to be wide open to easily knock in the rebound.
The Union essentially sealed the victory on Cory Burke’s goal in the 69th minute. Santos sprinted down the sideline, beat a defender and sent a hard cross on the ground. Burke, with a defender on his back, charged into the box and got the tip of his cleats on the ball to redirect it into the net.
Homegrown goalie Matt Freese made one save to post a clean sheet in his first MLS start of the 2020 season. Freese, who attended the Union’s first home game at the Linc in 2009, started in place of all-star Andre Blake, who is out with a broken hand.
“I could definitely never have imagined this,” Freese said. “I have dreamt about it but I didn’t know it was coming.”
Freese could have been easily talking about the whole Union fan base. They get to bask in the Shield’s glory for a couple of weeks.
The Union will host a playoff game in about two weeks against the winner of the Eastern Conference play-in round.
“The season is not done yet,” Curtin said. “The real season now starts. This group has the ability to beat anyone in MLS, and everything goes through Subaru Park.”
The Union are hoping there is one more major post-game celebration left this season.
“There’s a saying here in Philly of, ‘Trust the process’ … trust our process,” Bedoya said on the field. “This is a 5-for-5 city. Put some respect on our name. Let’s go!”