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Inside Doop: Union stuck in neutral after another draw with expansion team

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Inside Doop: Union stuck in neutral after another draw with expansion team

For the second straight game, the Union played an expansion team. And for the second straight game, the Union walked away from the game with a point.

In this week's Inside Doop, we'll take a closer look at Saturday's 1-1 road draw with Minnesota United and what lies ahead with six games left in this disappointing season.

Three thoughts about Saturday's game
1. Compared to their expansion brethren, Minnesota is not a particularly dangerous team, built more for the future than Atlanta's expensive roster. But the Union were fortunate to escape TCF Bank Stadium with a point after a penalty on Oguchi Onyewu was overturned by video review because of a foul on Michael Boxall right before the hand ball. How big was that for the Union? Not only did they avoid facing a penalty kick in a tie game, but Onyewu also got to stay on the field after his second yellow card was rescinded. Considering the Union also had a big video review go their way vs. Dallas a few weeks ago, it's fair to say they're loving the new system — for now. It should also maybe make fans nervous that the club is enjoying some good fortune while still falling in the standings.

2. For the first 15 minutes of Saturday's game, the Union looked ready to coast to a victory. The first goal — in the 5th minute — showed off Fafa Picault's speed and CJ Sapong's precision as Picault set up Sapong's 13th goal of the season — one shy of the club's single-season record. But, aside from Andre Blake's making a huge save, the team had little to hang their hats on after that as the Loons tied the game on a Union defensive collapse and mostly took control of the game from there. That kind of inconsistency is maddening but not surprising at this point of the season for a club that's winless in its last five and has won only one road game all year.

3. With Alejandro Bedoya suspended for the game, the Union turned to Warren Creavalle to start in his place. And while Creavalle played fine, the fact that Derrick Jones didn't get a chance to take the field was somewhat alarming. Their top homegrown prospect, Jones has mostly fallen off the map since a strong start to the season and a promising performance at the U-20 World Cup. At this point, the 20-year-old midfielder may just need an offseason to rest and a preseason to regain his mojo. Still, with the Union essentially out of the playoff race, it seems silly not to throw Jones and other young guys out there for the final few games.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The schedule only gets tougher from here for the Union, who travel to a place they rarely win, Red Bull Arena, to play a nationally televised game vs. the rival Red Bulls on Sunday, before tough games against Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle and Chicago again. How many points will the Union gain from this stretch heading into their season finale vs. Orlando? It's certainly possible they won't get many and will end up finishing with one of the league's worst records. And adding insult to injury there, their first-round draft pick belongs to New England from the trade that brought in Charlie Davies, who played (less than) one minute on Saturday, upping his total to 25 minutes on the year.

2. It's another week so it must be time for another Maurice Edu question. The Designated Player recently returned to full health but is trying to get his fitness back up through rehab appearances with affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC. At the very least, you'd think he could be ready for a 20-30 minute assignment this coming week or the week after. But then the question is what that does for the Union, who are deep at his position and don't really need a boost for the playoff push since there likely won't be one. They could throw him out there to see if they'd be interested in bringing him back next year (on a much cheaper contract), or they could just want to do him a favor by letting him show other potential bidders something leading into the offseason.

3. Speaking of veteran defensive midfielders, what about Brian Carroll? One of the league's longest-tenured players hasn't logged an MLS minute all season and appears close to retirement, whether by choice or not. An all-time good guy, Carroll could be in line for a job in the Union organization if he so chooses. But it might be nice for the 36-year-old to get back on the field at least once more for some type of farewell.

Stat of the week
With his 13th goal, Sapong passed three players who had previously scored 12 in a Union season: Jack McInerney in 2013, Sebastien Le Toux in 2014 and Chris Pontius in 2016. The all-time record was set in the Union's expansion season of 2010 when Le Toux scored 14 in 2,520 minutes. Sapong currently has 13 in 2,263 minutes with six games left to tie or break the mark.

Quote of the week
"I guess it felt OK to still get on the field despite everything else that's going on back home. Now I get to go back and see my parents and play the waiting game." — Fafa Picault, putting things in perspective after Saturday's 1-1 draw.

Earlier in the week, his parents evacuated their home in Miami due to Hurricane Irma, making a 27-hour drive to stay with Picault in Philly.

Player of the week
Sapong's the choice here as his career year continues — though he's probably kicking himself for not scoring a second after coming inches away.

Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

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Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

Updated 4:52 p.m.

Andre Blake will backstop the Union into the future.

The 27-year-old goalkeeper inked a multi-year extension Wednesday. The deal is expected to make Blake one of the highest paid goalkeepers in MLS and was completed using Targeted Allocation Money. 

Further details were not released.

“I am ready to lead,” Blake said. “I’ll definitely try to lead by my performance on the field and the way I carry myself off the field.”

While the extension was a no-brainer for the Union’s on-field success, the move was also an important one off the field. Historically, the club is known for its roster turnover and lack of continuity. Keeping Blake on the books for years to come gives the Union a well-respected face of the franchise that fans can appreciate. 

“It is a priority for us to build and secure the foundation of the Philadelphia Union, and Andre is as big a part of that foundation as any player,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “Ensuring he will be here for years to come is an important step for our club. We’re delighted to sign him to a new multi-year contract and would like to thank him for his dedication and hard work.”

Blake, a former first-overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and 2016 MLS All-Star, earned the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honor and claimed the runner-up spot for the award in 2017. He has proven himself to be one of the most exciting and productive goalkeepers in MLS, with 220 saves and 17 shutouts over 65 career matches.

Because of that success, and his heroics, while captaining the Jamaican National Team, Blake is viewed as someone who could transition to a European club. But despite the prospects and rumors, the Union claim there has never been a serious offer for the goalkeeper, making this extension a possibility.

“Right now my main focus is Philadelphia,” said Blake, who has never shied away from his interest in a European move. “I’m not worried about the future. I’m gonna live in the now and continue to work hard and make my performance speak for itself.”

Union's schedule sets team up for hot start

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Union's schedule sets team up for hot start

The Union’s 2018 season schedule was officially released Thursday and it revealed an advantageous start for the club.

After opening their season against the New England Revolution on March 3, the Union will have a week off before hosting the Columbus Crew on March 17. The club then visits the Colorado Rapids on March 31 but returns home to face the San Jose Earthquakes and Orlando City on April 7 and 13.

Five of the Union’s first seven games will be at Talen Energy Stadium, setting them up for important early success, as the team was an impressive 10-4-3 at home last season but went just 1-10-6 on the road.

But the Union’s early fortune quickly turns with five of their next seven games on the road. The team kicks off that crucial run with a three-game road trip starting on May 4 against the reigning MLS champion Toronto FC, and finishing against the Crew and Montreal Impact. That five-in-seven road set also includes the New York Red Bulls and a visit to the irreplicable home confines of Atlanta United.

Notable matches for the Union include the first-ever clash with expansion side LAFC at the freshly built Banc of California Stadium on June 30 and the Union’s first visit to D.C. United’s brand-new Audi Field (expected to open in June). The Union face the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at CenturyLink Field. Minnesota United (2017 expansion team) will make its first-ever visit to Philadelphia on Oct. 6.

As far as national exposure, the Union will be shown on ESPN twice, April 14 vs. Orlando City and Sept. 23 vs. Sporting Kansas City, and on Unimas once on April 28 against D.C. United.