Union feel 'sense of urgency' as playoff doubt creeps in

Union feel 'sense of urgency' as playoff doubt creeps in

The Union’s season has come down to the wire.

With two games remaining and no wins in their last five, the once surefire playoff participant that eyed hosting a playoff game has fallen, opening the door to missing the postseason altogether.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” Union manager Jim Curtin confessed.

The effect of that urgency will be tested starting Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium. Currently holding the sixth and final playoff spot, the Union can finish as high as fourth but as low as seventh, as they conclude the regular season by hosting Orlando City SC and the New York Red Bulls.

“It’s still a confident group,” Curtin told CSNPhilly.com. “It’s obvious we need to get a win, but the focus has been getting back to basics. If we play like we’re capable of and everyone puts in a good performance at home, where we’ve been good this year, the rest will take care of itself. I believe that.”

On the plus side for Curtin, the Union do control their own destiny. With a pair of wins matched with two Union losses, only the New England Revolution, who are three points behind the Union, can knock them out of playoff contention. If the Revs and Union tie in overall points and total wins, the Revs would need to overcome a minus-13 goal differential to win the tiebreaker.

“If we can take points from [Orlando City and Red Bulls], we can move up the table,” Curtin said. “Every point matters at this stage. I think we’re one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.”

Clear-headed and confident, Curtin explained why his club’s sudden drop needs context. Though the Union haven’t won since late August, causing white-knuckle frustration within the fan base, they did face a grind of four of five on the road, in Portland, Toronto and New York — three notoriously difficult places to play.

Curtin also filed the winless run as a way for the standings to even itself out. In other words, you are what your final record says you are, and the one-time Eastern Conference heavyweight was apt for a dose of honest regression.

“Over 34 games, it tells you where you stand,” Curtin said. “You could argue that of the 20 MLS teams, we’re somewhere in the 5 to 10 range, but with the capability of beating anyone in the top five."

After accepting the Union's struggles as the inevitable result of a youthful roster, mixed with the ebb and flow of a long season, Curtin is ready to move his club forward, starting on Saturday.

"We have an opportunity," he said, "to finish strong here and get ourselves into the playoffs."

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.