It’s Underdog Week at SB Nation, so now is the perfect time to look at some of the biggest upsets in Union history, but first what exactly is an upset in soccer? As we all know, unlike other sports, soccer can end in a draw resulting in both teams sharing a single point. It is not uncommon for teams higher up in the table to drop points by drawing with lower teams. Is that a true upset though? Did the lower team really defy the odds and upset the higher team even without winning the game? This is where context and the flow of the game makes all the difference in whether the result feels like an upset or not. Note that for this list, I used the match predictions found on fivethirtyeight.com (going back to 2016) to determine how unlikely the result was, which was generated prior to the match and did not update taking into consideration game state.
Union at Seattle Sounders: Sept 2018
Sitting atop the list is a very unlikely 1-0 away win in Seattle thanks to a 93rd minute goal from Fafa Picault which saw the Union get their first win in Seattle since 2011. Coming into this match, the Sounders were riding a very impressive 9 game win streak, with 12 games unbeaten; including a 5-0 thrashing of the LA Galaxy at home, and a road win at archrival Portland. In addition, the Sounders had a very impressive record at home, going 7-4-2 at home entering the game. To make matters worse, the Union had just suffered a 4-0 upset defeat at home to Montreal just 4 days earlier. This victory is even more impressive given the Union were down to 10 men after Jack Elliot picked up a second yellow card. Given their impressive form, the Sounders had a 56% chance of winning the game, with the Union having just 19.6% chance of winning and 24.1% chance of drawing.
Union at Houston Dynamo: July 2018
At number two on my list is a 3-1 away win in Houston thanks to goals from Alejandro Bedoya, Cory Burke and Fafa Picault. The Union went behind in the 10th minute, however rallied and were helped when the Dynamo went down to 10 men in the 60th minute. Interestingly this game came just two months before the game at Seattle, showing just how lucky the Union were on the road getting very unexpected results. Similarly, the Union had just suffered a 3-1 upset defeat to the LA Galaxy at home just four days earlier. Entering the game, the Dynamo had a 54% chance of winning, with the Union having just 22% chance of winning and 23% chance of drawing.
Union at DC United: May 2017
Number three on my list is the 4-0 win away at DC United, which saw Ogunchi Onyewu, Haris Medunjanin, and Fafa Picault score their first MLS goal along with a goal by Fabian Herbers. This match tied the largest victory in Union history as well as equaling DC United’s worst MLS loss at home. The Union were entering the match in relatively good form, coming off a 3-0 thrashing of the Red Bulls, and were unbeaten in the previous three matches. This was the second time in a month the Union had traveled to DC United, with the Union losing 2-1 in the previous matchup. Entering the game, DC United were given a 52% chance at winning, with the Union having just 23% chance of winning and 24% chance of drawing.
Union at DC United: August 2018
Number four on my list is the 2-0 away win at DC United. There was a clear trend in 2018 which saw the Union pull off multiple unlikely away victories, including many such as this, with playoff implications. This game saw CJ Sapong score a goal and an assist in this impressive victory. Both the Union and DC United were entering the game in good form however DC United were given a 52% chance at winning, with the Union having 23% chance at winning and 24% chance at drawing.
Union at Red Bulls: May 2018
Wrapping up my top five is a match which the Union did not win but managed a 0-0 draw away at Red Bulls. Keeping up with the trend of unlikely away results in 2018, this match was statistically speaking, the most unlikely result out of any match in the past four seasons but due to the Union not winning, I chose to put it lower on my list. Leading up to the match, the Union were fresh off a 4-1 win vs Real Salt Lake; however the Red Bulls were arguably the best team in MLS at the moment coming off four straight wins including a recent 3-1 victory at Atlanta. Historically the Union had struggled mightily in Harrison, where they had a very poor 1W-2D-7L record over their last 10 regular season matches. Given the historical record and recent form, the Red Bulls were given a 63% chance at winning, whereas the Union had just a 15% chance at winning at a 20% chance at drawing. While a 0-0 draw is often not seen like an upset, this match had to make my top five simply because of how the odds were stacked against the Union.
Notable Result: Union at LAFC
The Union produced a very unlikely result in their last MLS action during the recent 3-3 draw at LAFC. Given LAFC’s dominant home record, the Union had just a 17% chance of winning and a 19% chance at drawing. Although technically a more unlikely result than the Red Bulls game mentioned above, I did not leave this game feeling like we upset LAFC since we gave up the lead twice and barely held on in the end. While incredibly exciting and one of my favorite all time Union games (and easily best goals) I couldn’t justify inclusion.