As Andre Blake watched the Union match MLS’s best team blow for blow on Saturday, he knew something special was going on.
“I’ve been here for six years, and there’s something different about this team,” the goalkeeper said as he reflected on the 1-1 tie with Los Angeles FC. “This team is special. ... We’ve grown, we’ve gotten valuable experience, and I think we’re just starting to get it right and to put everything together.”
Yet, Blake and his teammates know that so much of what the Union have built could come crashing down over the next week-and-a-half. The three-game road swing against the New York Red Bulls, San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus Crew that starts Sunday at Red Bull Arena (6:30 p.m., PHL17) will test the Union’s depth, fitness, and mental strength just as much as the team’s soccer skills.
“It just [takes] a lot of rest, you know -- take care of your body, sleep good, eat good, take treatment, and be smart in the games,” midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “Sometimes, you cannot go 90 minutes full speed. ... That’s what we need to be, smart, playing three away games.”
The stakes are high: With just one more win, the Union will clinch the team’s first home playoff game in eight years. And while New York City FC has a five-point lead in the East with four games to go, if the Union keep winning and New York slips up, the Union will have a shot to overtake it. The two teams meet in Chester on the last day of the regular season.
It isn’t lost on anyone that NYCFC and Atlanta, currently first and third in the conference, meet at Yankee Stadium next Wednesday.
“We know that we need to win one game to host a playoff game,” Medunjanin said. “There’s still a possibility to win the East but also to lose everything ... It’s a lot of pressure in these last four games, but you need to play smart, especially now on the road.”
The Union’s strong performance against Los Angeles sent a message to skeptics of their success. Not everyone is convinced yet, though, and Medunjanin hopes to keep proving them wrong.