Union frustrated as they head into playoff stretch

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Union frustrated as they head into playoff stretch

CHESTER, Pa. -- With the playoff race tightening, the Union desperately needed three points Saturday against the Montreal Impact. They came away with one and the feeling of defeat after drawing the Impact, 1-1 (see game story).

“We wanted three points here,” Union forward Fabian Herbers said. “It was a clear goal of ours and unfortunately we didn’t get it. It’s a little frustrating.”

What made Saturday so frustrating is the Union’s standing in the Eastern Conference and upcoming schedule. The club, holding the fourth spot in the East at 11-10-8, three points ahead of the Impact, won’t play another home game until Oct. 16. 

“I think we have a good group, a very experienced group,” said Union midfielder Warren Creavalle, whose club has five games remaining. “We’re a team that can absolutely handle this stretch and thrive in it.” 

But that’s easier said than done, especially with this particular run of games. In that time away from Talen Energy Stadium, the Union will face the Portland Timbers, Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls — three playoff-caliber teams, two of which are ahead of the Union in the East. 

The Union are 3-7-4 on the road this season. 

“It’s going to be difficult,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We’ve had a good eye on those three games. Going on the road we knew would be a challenge. At the same time, we’ve proven we can win on the road, we can get points on the road.” 

Difficulty aside, the players echoed their coach’s confidence. 

“We just take it game by game,” said Union midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, who had the Union’s lone goal against the Impact. “You can see we have a good team, we show it every game.”

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.