In one week, the Philadelphia Union will look to defend their Supporters Shield victory when they kick off their 2021 MLS regular season. After a season that was totally changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 MLS season will pivot back to a 34 games season. 32 of Philly’s games will be against teams in the eastern conference, while two will be against teams from the west. The Union may be enthralled in Concacaf Champions League right now, but come next weekend they will need to shift gears to the new MLS campaign. Here’s an in-depth look at the Philadelphia Union’s 2021 MLS season.
Philadelphia Union’s 2021 MLS Season
After only playing 23 matches in the abbreviated 2020 season, Philly and the rest of MLS will return to the 34-game season in 2021. Unfortunately, the lingering effects of COVID-19 mean that the 2021 season will see the majority of games played in-conference. Since there are only 14 teams in the eastern conference, this means that they will play six teams three times, and play the remaining eight teams twice.
MLS is always a league that has been built upon the parity inside the league. Last year showed that when teams only play inside their own conference that the games mean even more. Consequently, this model was adapted for the 2021 season. The Union did very well last season playing most of their game’s against the other eastern conference sides; but, can that success be manifested again?
Above all, the Union will count on their strong club culture and prominent style of play to get a leg up on their opponents in 2021. Let’s take a look at the teams Philly will play in the Union’s 2021 MLS regular season play.
The Full Schedule
|Sun., April 18||@ Columbus Crew SC||5:30 p.m.||FS1, Fox Deportes|
|Sat., April 24||Inter Miami CF||8:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., May 1||NYCFC||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., May 8||@ Chicago Fire FC||1:00 p.m.||6abc|
|Wed., May 12||New England Revolution||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., May 15||New York Red Bulls||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sun., May 23||@ D.C. United||7:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sun., May 30||Portland Timbers||5:30 p.m.||FS1|
|Sun., June 20||@ Atlanta United FC||2:00 p.m.||ESPN|
|Wed., June 23||Columbus Crew SC||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., June 26||@ Chicago Fire FC||8:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Mon., July 5||@ Nashville SC||8:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Thurs., July 8||@ New York Red Bulls||TBA||PHL17|
|Sat., July 17||D.C. United||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Thurs., July 22||@ Orlando City SC||7:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sun., July 25||@ Inter Miami CF||TBA||PHL17|
|Sun., Aug. 1||Chicago Fire FC||6:00 p.m.||UniMas|
|Wed., Aug. 4||Toronto FC||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sun., Aug. 8||@ New England Revolution||6:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., Aug. 14||@ FC Cincinnati||8:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Wed., Aug. 18||NYCFC||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., Aug. 21||CF Montréal||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., Aug. 28||@ D.C. United||8:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Wed., Sept. 15||New England Revolution||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sun., Sept. 19||Orlando City SC||4:00 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sat., Sept. 25||Atlanta United FC||3:30 p.m.||Univision|
|Wed., Sept. 29||@ New York Red Bulls||TBA||PHL17|
|Sat., Oct. 2||Columbus Crew SC||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., Oct. 16||@ CF Montréal||1:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Wed., Oct. 20||@ Minnesota United FC||8:00 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., Oct. 23||Nashville SC||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Wed., Oct. 27||@ Toronto FC||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sat., Oct. 30||FC Cincinnati||7:30 p.m.||PHL17|
|Sun., Nov. 7||@ NYCFC||3:30 p.m.||TBA|
Three match-ups against six different eastern conference opponents
- New England Revolution (2 home, 1 away)
- Columbus Crew (2 home games, 1 away game)
- New York City FC (2 home games, 1 away game)
- Chicago Fire SC (1 home, 2 away)
- DC United (1 home, 2 away);
- New York Red Bulls (1 home, 2 away)
Winning the three-game “series” is crucial
Firstly, we need to take a look at the teams that the Union will play the most. That, of course, are the teams they will take on three times. While these will be the teams that Philly faces the most, it is clear that winning what could be looked at as the three-game series will be crucial. Taking four-to-six points against these six teams would be huge for Philly’s high hopes. Consequently, if the Union fails to take at least four points from these matches, then it may be hare for them to be high up in the standings. So, the question is, can the Union take the majority of the points from these matches?
Getting more than four points from teams like New England, Columbus and NYCFC will be difficult. These three teams were playoff sides in 2020. Columbus won MLS Cup, New England ended the Union’s magical 2020 season, and NYCFC has historically been a thorn in Philly’s side. Luckily, the Union gets two of the three games against these sides at Subaru Park. While the matches will be difficult, the formula against these teams is simple, take care of your home games and you win the season series.
The other three teams the Union faces three times are New York Red Bulls, DC United and Chicago Fire. While the Red Bulls did make the playoffs in 2020, the Union has been able to best them last season. DC and Chicago both missed the playoffs in 2020, and look more vulnerable than some of the other eastern conference sides Philly will face. The Union will play these three sides on the road two times and at home once. If they want to be at the top of the standings they have to win one away game against these sides and take care of business at home.
Home-and-away’s vs. seven other teams from the east
- Atlanta United (1 home game, 1 away game)
- Orlando City (1 home game, 1 away game)
- Toronto FC (1 home game, 1 away game)
- Inter Miami (1 home game, 1 away game)
- FC Cincinnati (1 home game, 1 away game)
- CF Montreal (1 home game, 1 away game)
- Nashville SC (1 home game, 1 away game)
TCB at Home PFP on the road
Secondly, the Union will play seven teams twice; once at home and once away. This brings back shades of the past when there was a balanced schedule with every team playing each team in the league twice. There is another clear formula for Philly in these matches. Think of it as a home-and-away series. Traditionally, the Union has shown that they will take care of business (TCB) at home and push for points (PFP) on the road. Doing this should put the Union in a position to take three to four points from these matchups.
That could be easier said than done against teams like Atlanta United, Orlando City and Toronto FC. Atlanta looks raring to go after a down year, Orlando is looking to prove that they have the quality to be a consistent playoff side and Toronto has the experience of winning pushing them. The Union will need to beat these teams at home if they want to show they are for real. Doing that allows for a tough fought loss or a draw on the road to be more bearable.
If Philly wants to set itself apart from the rest of the east. They will need to take the season series against sides that are seen as lesser teams. Last year, Inter Miami, FC Cincinnati, CF Montreal and Nashville SC were those lesser teams. Will this be the case this year? It’s too soon to tell. But, if the Union wants to stay at the top of the east losses to these sides will sow seeds of doubts about them.
Two matches with two western conference sides
- @ Minnesota United
- vs Portland Timbers
Single game matchups against top teams
Thirdly, the Union takes on two very good western conferences sides in their 2021 schedule. Portland and Minnesota both finished in the top four of MLS’s western’s conference in 2020. They have been consistent playoff teams over the last few seasons. Philadelphia’s two matches against the western conference will be big tests about this team’s character.
Portland won the MLS is Back Tournament, which was MLS’s welcome back from their break due to the pandemic, they also made the playoffs but didn’t go too far. This team is for real and always prepares well. The Union gets to play them earlier in the season and at home. Could it be a very early preview of the 2021 MLS Cup? It could be labeled as that when the two sides meet on May 30th.
Minnesota has had a trajectory that has only gone up over the last few seasons. They want to show that this trajectory is not on the downturn. Philly will go on the road to Minnesota in October to face this strong Loons team. By that time, both will be far into their seasons and likely pushing to be considered a top team in MLS. It should be a good midweek contest on October 20th.
What should the expectation be?
To conclude, how should Union fans feel about this 2021 schedule and their team heading into the season? This Union side is definitely different from the supporters shield winning side of 2020. Losing three starters from a trophy-winning side is never an easy thing to deal with. However, other than those losses, this team has a strong core that played in 2020. With new homegrowns coming up and a few foreign signings now joining the team could point to this team doing well in 2021. However, should the injury bug be a long-term factor, then this side could see a regression from last year.
A regression would not be surprising at all in 2021. Playing 11 more matches than last year while there still is a Pandemic will be difficult for Philly. However, the regression shouldn’t be too huge, if one occurs. It would be a tremendous shock if this Union team didn’t make the playoffs in 2021. It would also be a surprise if they fell out of the top four in the east. 2020 was no fluke season. Philly has a distinct style and culture now at their club instilled by head coach Jim Curtin and sporting director Ernst Tanner. This culture and style fit the players they bring into their team.
While there is still no big star player leading the line, Philly has the potential to be that cohesive team that is the star. They play like an underdog even when they are favored. That can carry this team a long way as it did in 2020. Will this team win the supporters shield in 2021? Probably not. But can they still push to be a top-four team? Yes!
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Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire