BLAINE, Minn. – Is this the year for the Philadelphia Union?
Goalkeeper Andre Blake certainly believes an MLS Cup trip could be the Union's next step in their progression over the last few seasons.
"We are definitely inching closer, we are building each season, we are doing better," Blake told MLSsoccer.com on the first day of MLS All-Star training ahead of Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game presented by Target against Liga MX's best. "In 2020 we won the Shield, 2021 we lost in the Conference Finals, so let's see what 2022 brings.
"If history is really right, then this year we should go one more step. Maybe two more steps closer."
The Union currently lead the Eastern Conference standings with 10 matches to go (12W-3L-9D, 45 points). And as Blake stated, the Union won the Shield in 2020, their first and only trophy since joining the league as an expansion side in 2010.
However, Philadelphia know well how regular-season success doesn't necessarily translate into Audi MLS Cup Playoffs success. In their Supporters' Shield-winning season, they lost in Round One to the New England Revolution and a season ago they fell to eventual champions New York City FC while severely depleted by health & safety protocols.
"We have to keep going when it gets to the playoffs," Blake said. "It is a completely new season – you could win the league and then get knocked on in the first game, so you have to bring it in the playoffs. We are doing pretty good right now so hopefully, we can take that confidence into the playoffs and hopefully go all the way this year."
"To be the best, you have to beat the best"
Philadelphia's biggest competition in the Supporters' Shield race and, according to Blake, perhaps an MLS Cup finalist on Nov. 5, are league-leaders LAFC. The Western Conference side holds a six-point lead and is on pace to break the MLS regular-season points record (73) set last season by the Revs.
The Black & Gold's summertime signings of Gareth Bale, Giorgio Chiellini, and Designated Player Denis Bouanga in the Secondary Transfer Window have caught not only fans' attention and excitement, but teams have them circled on the calendar.
"LAFC is stocking up, but for a club like Philly, those teams or those games really motivate us to really test ourselves against some of the best in the league, the best in the world," Blake said. "We really look forward to playing against those teams, and we are doing well in the East, LAFC is doing well in the West. You know, if both teams continue to do well, there is a possibility we might meet in the MLS Cup Final."
The Jamaican international knows there is still nearly a third of the season to go. Still, if we are to see a Philly vs. LAFC matchup to decide 2022's league champion, the Union will certainly not feel inferior to their potential foe.
"Not looking ahead, but if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best," said the 31-year-old, an All-Star alongside Union defenders Jakob Glesnes and Kai Wagner. "If we meet them in the finals we are going to respect them, but we aren't going to fear them because we want to win."
Blake, since entering MLS in 2014 as a No. 1 SuperDraft pick out of UConn, has been one of the most consistent players in the league. He is a two-time Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year (2016, '20) and a four-time MLS All-Star (2016, '19, '21-22).
With that success, could an overseas move one day be in store for the Union netminder? He dreams of it, but is also cherishing his time with Philadelphia.
"I think everybody's dream is to play in the biggest leagues in the world, and so is mine," Blake said. "Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet for whatever reason, but the show goes on.
"You just have to keep doing your thing and hopefully one day it happens and if it doesn't happen, so be it. You just have to kinda bloom where you're planted."