Supporters Shield slips away from Union as Daniel Rios runs riot

Philadelphia Union

Saturday night’s 4-0 defeat to Charlotte couldn’t have come at a worse time for Philadelphia Union. Needing to pick up at least a point away to The Crown to keep their Supporters Shield hopes alive, attention now turns to a potential first-ever MLS Cup triumph.

Knowing that The Union had fallen to their first defeat in seven matches on Saturday, LAFC were hoping to pounce in Portland. A win against The Timbers would secure a second Supporters Shield in four seasons and, despite being pegged back, a 95th minute winner – courtesy of Denis Bouanga – handed the best in the west their first title since 2019.

Here are three things we learned from the weekend’s action.

Too many ties

Prior to the point against Atlanta, the Union went on a ridiculous run in order to challenge for the Supporters Shield. From July to the stalemate against The Five Stripes, Philly played 14 matches and won 11, drawn one (a goalless draw with Columbus Crew at the start of July) and lost twice.

There are stages in seasons which, should they end in disappointment, can come back to bite you. The Eastern Conference leaders played six matches in May. Whilst they secured a win in Portland against the Timbers, they drew the other five games in that month.

They lost two points from a winning position against Nashville and the ten-man Red Bulls but bounced back against New England Revolution. But the harsh reality is that, when aiming for titles and trophies, sometimes a draw is just as useless as a loss.

Nearest Eastern challenges CF Montreal played five matches in May, losing two but winning three. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that – despite losing twice in the same time frame – the Canadians gained a point more than their American counterparts.

LAFC, who ultimately pipped Jim Curtin’s men to the Shield, picked up 10 points over six matches in the month of May. That sequence includes the 2-2 draw that the two teams played against one another, where Steve Cherundolo’s side came from behind twice.

The best teams are ruthless, they kill off matches so it’s impossible for their opponents to get back into games. Philadelphia often did that throughout the summer months, including the ridiculous run between August and mid-September.

However, goals have dried up recently which is bizarre to say for the highest-scoring side in the entirety of Major League Soccer. That’s back-to-back league games without a goal, at the most important stage of the season.

No threat from full-back areas

With the formation that Philadelphia play, it’s of paramount importance that forward threat comes from the full-back area. No recognized wingers means no width coming from the midfield, so it’s down to the defenders that crosses come into the box alongside defending their own areas.

Kai Wagner, in his worst performance all season, is sleeping at the back post for the first goal. Rather than carving any opportunities out from open play, it seemed as though any offensive threat was coming courtesy of his set-pieces.

It’s unsure what Nathan Harriel is doing for the second, as he can’t contain Kamil Jóźwiak and passes up numerous opportunities to regain possession and clear his lines. So defensively, they need to be wide awake and try to help out the midfield going forward.

Daniel Gazdag was trying to be his usual, influential self but it was ultimately to no avail. The Hungarian was attempting to be his own one-man army. It took 33 minutes for The Union to work opposing goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega, through the 26-year-old, which proved a routine stop from distance.

This is a goalkeeper that was making his first appearance of the MLS season, and his league debut for Charlotte. Get him under pressure from the off, test him early on and see what he’s made of. Philly didn’t do that and a routine night for him was rounded off with a clean sheet.

Hoping to have Bedoya back ASAP

As was the case against Atlanta, the 35-year-old was a huge miss in the Queen City. The first goal, for instance, is far too cheap considering what’s at stake for Philly. Karol Świderski has all the time in the world to start a counter from the center circle.

He linked up with compatriot Kamil Jóźwiak with ease, despite playing a poor pass, who centers for Daniel Rios under no real pressure. The Mexican has the simplest of tasks to slam home from a matter of yards out with a few Philly players equally to blame.

We alluded to Wagner earlier. But Jack Elliott looked to clear initially but did so poorly, and he’s too occupied by the ball. And you’d like to think that had the skipper been selected, he’d have been switched on to cut it out in the center. The miss of his composure, calmness and experience has become increasingly evident in recent matches.

Now they must secure the East

It’s bitterly disappointing to have missed out on a second Supporters Shield in three seasons. But these types of results, usually down to a poor performance, are a rarity. It’s the first time since July 2019 that The Union have conceded four goals in a game.

They last did so to both Real Salt Lake and Montreal Impact, as they were known then. It’s against the other Canadian team in the Eastern Conference that they can secure top spot. Victory over a Toronto team with nothing to play for should seal it and then focus shifts.

If not, CF Montreal – who are away to Inter Miami – could leapfrog them into pole position on the final day. Beat Toronto and Philly can look to salvage the season by going on to clinch a first MLS Cup. Easier said than done, mind you.