Troubled Union 'keep believing' despite poor start

Troubled Union 'keep believing' despite poor start

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union aren't panicking yet. 

Despite suffering their fourth straight loss Friday, in an offensively inept effort against New York City FC at Talen Energy Stadium, the club's frustrated players and coaches are still believers.

"I've had times in France at Nantes where we were on an eight-game winless streak and it sucked," said Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, whose club is winless in its last 14 matches dating back to Aug. 2016. "We had to stay in hotels for like a week before the game for four straight weeks until we got it turned around. Here, we're not going to fight relegation. The team's not going anywhere, so it's important for the team to stay confident, keep believing in ourselves."

Following the 2-0 defeat, the united message coming from the Union locker room was that wins are on the way. And unless the club self-destructs, the losing tide will eventually turn in its favor.

"Honestly, we just need to keep playing," Union forward C.J. Sapong said. "We're just in a rut right now. This is something that's common in our league. You've just got to ride the wave, take the ebbs and flows as they come and continue to believe that it'll turn around for you."

But turning things around will be difficult. After a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers last weekend, Curtin was pressed over his lineup decisions and formation. On Friday, the manager moved Bedoya deeper into the midfield and activated Roland Alberg into the No. 10 role, along with tap rookie Jack Elliott for Oguchi Onyewu at center back. He also brought in youngster Adam Najem and subbed in Jay Simpson. 

None of it worked. The Union only produced two shots on goal -- both from outside the box. And neither were clocked in the second half while trailing and with Curtin letting his attack horses loose. It left the Union shaking their head.

"We didn't create enough on the night," Curtin said. "When you don't score a goal at home, you're not happy with the chances that you created. We had a couple good looks, but they really were half chances, whether it was corner kicks or scrambles in the box, but not a ton of clear-cut chances created and we come up on the wrong end of a result again."

But what Bedoya saw was everything but the finish. The Union were able to fire off 11 shots and earned a number of early opportunities to take the lead.

"The first 30 minutes against Portland and now against NYC, I thought we were able to put in the effort and turn them over and get where we want to be," Bedoya said. "But just the sharpness in the final third is lacking. It's just small margins where hopefully that final ball will be there and we can turn it around."

And Bedoya, along with the rest of the optimistic Union, believe that they aren't as bad as their 0-4-2 record and that they just need one victory to get 2017 back on track.

"We need a win," Bedoya said. "I think we just need to get a big win and get our confidence up."

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.