It’s weird to talk about a 3-3 draw where the Philadelphia Union twice blew a lead as such an important game in their run to a Supporters’ Shield in 2020 but a year later it’s still hard not to remember that game as a harbinger of all that eventually came after it.
Jakob Glesnes strapping a ball to a rocket to score from another zip code, Jose Martinez repeatedly changing his bloody jersey in possibly the most memorable Union debut in team history and Brenden Aaronson spinning and slicing his way through a defense that conceded the fewest goals in 2019 were just a few of the highlights.
The Union didn’t go into Banc of California stadium that night playing for a draw. They went in prepared to disrupt and to entertain in a frantic style that forced the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners into mistakes and uncomfortable situations they were unaccustomed to racking up 72 points the season before. Even neutrals were glued to the TV wondering what would happen next.
In addition to being a great advertisement for the league, that night was a clear signal to the supporters lucky enough to be in the building — Philadelphia Union original Danny Califf and his family among them — and to those back home still up past midnight watching the game on Fox Sports who this team was.
After having just one nationally televised game in 2019, here they were in the second week of the season on national TV looking every bit the part of one of the league’s elite in front of 22,112 fans in the stands.
Then an out-of-control coronavirus shut it all down.
A couple days after Glesnes did in-person interview with media back in Chester to talk about his free kick blast, the home opener and the rest of the games scheduled for the next four months were scratched. Glesnes never even got his well deserved Goal of the Week honor for it.
With no soccer to watch, dissect and debate, the legend of the LAFC game only grew. Union fans hanging out on Zoom and interacting on social media imagined the possibilities of what the team we saw that night in LA could accomplish if only given a chance to return to the field.
Hope, in fact, maybe has never been greater for a Philadelphia Union team coming off a one-point in two game road trip to start the season.
For good reason too. This team was legit and when soccer finally came back they proved it, making a run to the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida and rattling off a 14-3-4 record (16-4-4 in all competitions) after the game at LAFC to finish top of the league and win their first trophy.
Two of their three regularly season losses after the opening loss to FC Dallas the week before the Los Angeles trip came against the eventual MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew and the third was to the 2019 MLS Cup runner up Toronto FC.
In other words, this team ended up being everything we thought we might be seeing in Los Angeles.
And then some.