For the second straight year, the big story surrounding the Union as they begin their eighth Major League Soccer season on Sunday in Vancouver is goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Last season, the big news centered on Blake earning the full-time job for the first time in his third season with the team.

This season, the big news was that Blake was still on the team.

After earning MLS goalkeeper of the year honors in 2016, speculation arose about a potential international transfer for Blake. International teams, looking for a keeper, were expected to make the Union an offer that was too good to refuse.

There was one problem with this line of thinking.

"We didn't have any offer on the table," Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. "It was always just soccer speculation."

Blake said he never thought he'd be anywhere but with the Union this year.

"I didn't pay attention to all the rumors," he said. "I think if there was actually something at some point, I would have heard about it."

He said one rumor in particular showed him that the speculation was off-base.

"I saw the one about Belgium and I knew that wasn't right off the bat because I knew that was a few years ago," Blake said.

Blake even saw some positive in his name floating in the rumor mill.

"It shows you must be doing something right," he said laughing.

Last season he did plenty right, taking full advantage of his chance to win the job.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of the University of Connecticut, Blake played just one MLS game that year, deemed too raw to take over the top spot. A series of injuries slowed him down his second season, but after regaining his health, he earned six late-season starts and flourished.

Last season Blake appeared in 32 of 34 regular season games, missing two games when he played with the Jamaican national team.

His statistics on the surface may not seem outstanding - a 1.56 goals-against average, which was 18th among MLS keepers. Blake, however, specialized in making the spectacular save. At 6-foot-2 and 172 pounds, he has quickness to play the angles adeptly, the diving ability to frequently frustrate shooters.

"You see some of the saves he is making, every day in training he makes highlight reel saves and it's so much fun to play with somebody at that talent level," said Union outside back Keegan Rosenberry, who joined Blake on the MLS all-star team last season.

After his second year, when Blake had surgery on both knees, he wanted to prove his durability.

"It was a tough year for me and that is why last year was so important, getting through the season without missing games due to injuries," he said.

Stewart feels that as well as Blake played, that the 26-year-old keeper has yet to hit his peak.

"I think Andre has a whole other level to go," Stewart said.

Blake agrees.

"Every day I think I can get better at shot blocking, distribution, and crosses and my decision making," Blake said. "For me it is about trying to get better every day."

And he's happy that he will apply his craft with the Union.

"I love it here and love playing with these guys," Blake said.

After the team went 11-14-9 and earned the second playoff berth in franchise history, Blake is looking for more this season after the Union were eliminated in their first playoff game by Toronto.

"We all know what it will take," Blake said. "I think we are a better group this year."

Especially since their keeper stayed put.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard