Andre Blake gets it.
He gets that after the Union blew their shot at first place and almost surely lost second, too, it’s difficult for fans to see the good.
But the good is there: smashing team records for points and wins, the first home playoff game in eight years, a sense of identity and cohesion unlike any other Union team.
“We have to look in the mirror, and we have to decide that we have a very good team,” Blake said ahead of Sunday’s regular-season finale against New York City FC at Talen Energy Stadium (4:25 p.m., PHL17; all 12 games leaguewide kick off simultaneously).
“It’s been a very good year, and we all recognize that,” he continued. “But I still think, and the guys still think, that there’s more we can achieve, there’s more that can be done. We’ve just got to keep pushing and not be satisfied with just making the playoffs or getting home-field advantage.”
The Union have had more good luck with other teams’ results this year than in previous seasons. It would be the biggest miracle yet if second-place Atlanta United were to lose or tie at home against the New England Revolution. But, Blake won’t let himself or his teammates think it’s impossible.
“It’s important for us as professionals: Every time we go on the field, the aim has got to be to win and to get points,” he said. “We’re going to treat Sunday no different. It’s going to be in our home building, and we need to get out there and be fearless and try to come away with three points.”
Blake can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like at the playoff game. He isn’t alone -- none of the players were in the league, never mind in Philadelphia, in 2011.
There’s a long way to go until then -- the game won’t be until Oct. 19 or 20. (The date will be confirmed after Sunday’s games.) Blake won’t just be in the Union’s weight room, though, because there’s a FIFA international window next weekend. Jamaica will play Aruba in the Concacaf Nations League, at home on Oct. 12 and away on Oct. 15.
It will be Blake’s first time with the Reggae Boyz since the team returned to the top 50 of FIFA’s world rankings for the first time since 2005. That has cracked the door open for the current generation of players to get work permits in English soccer — Blake very-much included. Remember the potential suitors he had two years ago? The interest could be much more concrete this winter.
“It’s a big thing, and we all know — it’s obviously in the back of our heads,” Blake said. “We all know that we can open doors for the younger generations to come. So, it’s good for us, not just for us, but for others to follow in the same path.”
Rest assured, though, that he’s thinking only about the present right now, not the future.
“We have one objective, one challenge, and on Sunday, it’s to win,” Blake said. “The last few years, we’ve kind of stumbled into the playoffs.”
Last year, the Union lost their last two games of the season; in 2016, they lost their last three and were winless in their last six. Finishing this season with a win would prove again that the Union’s season has been no fluke.
MLS decision day
On the final day of the regular season, all 12 games leaguewide will kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET. ESPN will have TV coverage of the Portland Timbers-San Jose Earthquakes game, with the last playoff spot in the Western Conference at stake. The network will also offer a live whiparound show through its ESPN+ subscription streaming service, and ESPN+ will have live streams of all out-of-market games in their entirety.
Here are the games, listed in order of importance:
Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United
Atlanta United vs. New England Revolution
Philadelphia Union vs. New York City FC
FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City
D.C. United vs. FC Cincinnati
Houston Dynamo vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
Montreal Impact vs. New York Red Bulls
Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew
Los Angeles FC vs. Colorado Rapids
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Real Salt Lake
Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire
Here are the standings of the teams still in playoff contention. The first tiebreaker is total wins, the second is goal difference, and the third is goals scored. The first-place team gets a first-round bye; the second- through fourth-place teams will host in the first round. The playoffs will be a straight bracket with no re-seeding:
All the berths have been clinched. Only seeding is up for grabs.
1. New York City FC: 17-6-10, 61 points (+20 goal difference, 61 goals scored; clinched first place)
2. Atlanta United: 17-12-4, 55 points (+13 GD, 55 GS; clinched first round home game)
3. Philadelphia Union: 16-10-7, 55 points (+9 GD, 57 GS; clinched first round home game)
4. D.C. United: 13-10-10, 49 points (+4 GD, +42 GS)
5. New York Red Bulls: 14-13-6, 48 points (+5 GD, 53 GS)
6. Toronto FC: 12-10-11, 47 points (+4 GD, 56 GS)
7. New England Revolution: 11-10-12, 45 points (-5 GD, 49 GS)
If the playoffs started today, the matchups would be:
4. D.C. vs. 5. New York Red Bulls; winner plays at 1. New York City FC
3. Philadelphia vs. 6. Toronto
2. Atlanta vs. 7. New England
1. Los Angeles FC: 20-4-9, 69 points (+46 GD, 82 GS; clinched first place and Supporters’ Shield for best record leaguewide)
2. Minnesota United: 15-10-8, 53 points (+10 GD, 52 GS; clinched playoff berth)
3. Seattle Sounders: 15-10-8, 53 points (+2 GD, 51 GS; clinched playoff berth)
4. Los Angeles Galaxy: 16-14-3, 51 points (+1 GD, 56 GS; clinched playoff berth)
5. Real Salt Lake: 15-13-5, 50 points (+4 GD, 45 GS; clinched playoff berth)
6. Portland Timbers: 13-13-7, 46 points (+1 GD, 49 GS)
7. FC Dallas: 12-12-9, 45 points (+2 GD, 48 GS)
8. San Jose Earthquakes: 13-5-5, 44 points (-1 GD, 51 GS)
9. Colorado Rapids: 12-15-6, 42 points (-3 GD, 57 GS)
If the playoffs started today, the matchups would be:
4. Los Angeles Galaxy vs. 5. Salt Lake; winner plays at 1. Los Angeles FC
3. Seattle vs. 6. Portland
2. Minnesota vs. 7. Dallas