Ryan Bright

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.”

Everything to know about Fusion, Overwatch League

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Photo: Fusion

Everything to know about Fusion, Overwatch League

The Fusion are about to make history.

When the freshly minted club takes its seat at Blizzard Arena Thursday night against the Houston Outlaws, not only will it be the first-ever Overwatch League match for the team, but it will mark the first geo-based team from Philadelphia to play in any competitive esports league.

“Our team, players and staff are very excited for the season to underway," Fusion coach Yann "Kirby" Luu said. "It'll be our first time on stage for an official Overwatch League match, so the players are impatient to show what they can do."

After missing the preseason as a result of a delayed visa process for players, Thursday will be the first time the Fusion will be in public view and in meaningful competition. That’s also what makes the first match such a unique opportunity.

"I don't think we'll be at our peak just yet, but that most likely applies to all teams in the league," Luu said. "Our fans can expect to see our guys ready to play and hungry to compete."

What is the Overwatch League?
Overwatch League is a seasonal esports competition based on the multi-platform video game Overwatch. Think of it like the NHL, and Overwatch, the game, as ice hockey. Overwatch League is in its inaugural season, which begins on Jan. 10 and runs through mid-June.

This season, the league is broken up into the Pacific and Atlantic Divisions, where 12 teams from around the world will compete twice on a weekly basis at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California. Like hockey, the matches are six-on-six but played exclusively on PC in a LAN setting (they all sit in the same room using the same equipment).

There will be standings, playoffs and roster alterations, just like any other team-based sports league. And if you haven’t followed esports and wonder how a video game league is sustainable, just look at the team ownership: Robert Kraft, Jeff Wilpon and Stan and Josh Kroenke are all well invested.

The season one Overwatch League champion will pocket $1 million.

Who are the Fusion?
The orange-and-black Fusion are an Overwatch League franchise owned by Comcast-Spectacor, which also owns the Flyers. The Fusion are the most international of any team in the league, made up of 12 players from around the world (only six can start) and a full coaching staff.

While the Fusion feature talented and well-known players like Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” Lee, Georgii “Shadowburn” Gushcha, Isaac “Boombox” Charles and Gael “Poko” Gouzerch, they are considered an unknown entity because of a visa procurement slog.

On paper, the Fusion have the required talent to compete. The spine of the club (Carpe, Shadowburn and Joe “Joemeister” Gramano, come directly from FaZe Clan, a successful club team that made the Overwatch Contenders finals last season. Managed by the same people, Contenders predates Overwatch League and will work like the AHL to Overwatch League’s NHL.

But if you were to prematurely grade this team in NBA terms, the Fusion won’t likely be the Warriors, Celtics or Cavaliers this season, but be somewhere between the Timberwolves, Sixers, Bucks and Hornets.

What to expect.
At 7 p.m. Thursday and at 2 p.m. Saturday against the Spitfires, the Fusion will kick off their season at Blizzard Arena. Each human player on the team selecting one of 26 characters with a specific set of skills. Those skills range from DPS (offense), which takes out the opposition, to tanks and support (defense), which keep teammates alive through blocking and healing.

Think of it like basketball: How a power forward, center and point guard all have unique abilities and all work in tandem toward an objective. And in Overwatch League, teams design strategies to fit their situation into the game, and their strengths.

Each match features a four-map set, all predetermined and all with unique objectives (control, escort, assault, hybrid). The team that claims the most objectives will win the map. It’s kind of like tennis, but with each game taking 20-30 minutes. 

Where to watch or see them
Unlike traditional sports, you won’t find Overwatch League on TV. But you can find all of the league’s matches for free online at OverwatchLeague.com or on Twitch at Twitch.tv/overwatchleague.

If you want an in-person experience, you can watch the Fusion’s match with other fans at Wahoo’s Fish Taco in University City Thursday at 5 p.m.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can catch the Fusion live from Blizzard Arena in Burbank. Tickets are on sale for about $30.

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.