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Andre Blake is having a moment — but what does it mean for the Union?

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USA Today Images

Andre Blake is having a moment — but what does it mean for the Union?

The Philadelphia Union play a soccer game tonight. Three thousand miles away, two Union players play in a far bigger game as Chris Pontius and the U.S. national team face Andre Blake and Jamaica in the Gold Cup final.

Pontius likely won’t see time in the battle for CONCACAF supremacy but his contributions throughout the tournament were a cool thing for someone who had been out of the USMNT picture for many years. So was the play of Union captain Alejandro Bedoya before he left to be home for the birth of his daughter.

But no one is having a moment like Blake.

Over the past few weeks, Blake has carried Jamaica on his back and showed a wider audience exactly what Union fans have known for years.

If you haven’t seen some of his crazy good moments throughout the tourney, here’s one:

https://twitter.com/DesTaquito/status/888205343733501952

And here’s another, from Jamaica’s stunning semifinal upset of CONCACAF power Mexico on Sunday:

When asked about watching Blake this week, Union head coach Jim Curtin offered high praise, even though a small part of him would prefer he’d have been in net for the Union during their last three games — two losses and a draw.

“He was [MLS] Goalkeeper of the Year last year and I think he’s having a better season this year with the seven shutouts he has for us, with the shutouts the Gold Cup,” Curtin said. “His leadership too. Andre’s a quiet kid. He’s always been kind of reserved and shy, but to see now after the game when he’s wearing the captain’s armband and calling that whole group in after you beat Mexico, basically in a road game at the Rose Bowl, to call that whole group in and you could see he was the one doing a lot of the talking in the group, that’s impressive.”

As Curtin notes, it’s one thing to make incredibly athletic saves, as Blake has consistently done since coming to this country to play collegiately at UConn, from where he was plucked by the Union as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. It’s quite another to do so while leading a soccer nation to the kind of heights it rarely sees.

So what now for Blake? Even if Jamaica loses to the U.S. in tonight’s final (which you can watch at 9:30 on FS1, right after the Union-Crew game ends), Blake’s stock has skyrocketed this summer. And if he has another monster game and Jamaica pulls the huge upset over the Americans? It’s hard to imagine any other goalkeepers at that level.

Curtin essentially said as much, pointing out that when it comes to world-class athletes at a position like goalkeeper, “there’s only so talented you can be, and I don’t see much better than Andre.” Which means it’s not a stretch to think he could go from the Union to a Real Madrid or a Manchester United or any of the other top clubs in the world.

“He should be a goalkeeper I believe teams in Europe are calling for,” Curtin said. “He’s that talented.”

But are they calling? Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said they weren’t earlier in this year and Curtin reiterated that claim this week. That means that either the Gold Cup isn’t boosting his stock across the pond as much as we’d like to think (which does make sense in a way; it’s not a huge tournament) or perhaps teams are waiting it out until the 26-year-old gets more game experience and more freedom to leave MLS.

For what it’s worth, both Blake and the Union can afford to be picky. The Union are a better team with Blake in goal but a lucrative sale could lead to a true difference-maker in the attack, which the team has sorely been lacking (and John McCarthy has shown this week to be more than capable as a starting goalkeeper). And Blake shouldn’t have to settle for a second-tier team or second-tier league in Europe; he’s on the record as saying he’d love to play for Manchester United and, given his talent and now-stable situation in Philly, doesn’t necessarily need to set his sights much lower than that.

“I think he will play in Europe,” Curtin said. “But it’s one thing to play in Europe; it’s another thing to play in Europe for a top club. I think he has the ability to play at a top club in Europe, for sure.”

In the meantime, Union fans should enjoy every minute they have watching Blake — because there’s no telling when it might end.

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

The Eagles may have lost Carson Wentz for the season, but it could be worse. A lot worse. The Eagles could be in the New York Giants’ shoes.

How much better are the Eagles than their loathsome NFC East rival to the north this season? Even with a season-ending injury to an MVP-caliber player under center, the Eagles still look vastly superior to their Week 15 opponent Sunday. In fact, would you even trade their quarterback situation with the Giants?

We try to answer that question and more while we examine whether the Giants do anything better than the Eagles in 2017. Anything at all!

Probably not though.

QUARTERBACKS
Eli Manning may have a couple of Super Bowl rings, and his supporting cast with the Giants is awful, but I can’t understand why there was such a clamoring to have him remain the team’s starter. Their record is 2-11. He’s averaging 6.0 yards per pass attempt this season — only Joe Flacco has been worse. And Manning turns 37 in less than three weeks, so what’s the upside? He looks shot. At least Nick Foles gives the Eagles some hope heading into his 29th birthday. At this stage of their respective careers, you would take Foles, and it’s a no-brainer. Heck, plenty of people would take Davis Webb over Manning.

Advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS
The Giants’ backfield is better than many suspected at the beginning of the season. Of course, turning out marginally better than the worst backfield in the NFL isn’t a huge accomplishment. Orleans Darkwa runs with power, and Wayne Gallman is a nice change of pace when he’s not fumbling the football. Both average better than 4.0 yards per carry. Shane Vereen looks cooked in the third-down role. Of course, the team doesn’t run the ball much, and none of the trio is a home-run hitter of the caliber of Jay Ajayi for the Eagles. Neither Darkwa nor Gallman looks like a better prospect than Corey Clement, either.

Advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
The Eagles have three players with more yards and touchdowns than the Giants’ leading receiver. Alshon Jeffery has 732 yards and eight touchdowns, while Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor both have 663 yards and seven scores. New York’s receiving corps was also decimated by injuries to Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall. Despite the losses, speedy Evan Engram is having an incredible rookie season for a tight end, becoming the primary weapon in the passing attack with 55 catches, 623 yards and six touchdowns. Clearly, Engram’s stellar play hasn’t been enough to compensate. Now wideouts Sterling Shepherd and Roger Lewis are questionable to play Sunday, too.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES
The Giants’ best O-lineman, right tackle Justin Pugh, is questionable as well with a back injury and hasn’t suited up in weeks. That’s a problem because their line wasn’t very good to begin with. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has improved as the season has progressed, and isn’t nearly as bad his reputation might suggest. Otherwise, there aren’t many bright spots up front. The Eagles have had their issues. The hope is Stefen Wisniewski can go with an ankle injury, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai has looked beatable in recent weeks. At least their issues are confined to the left side. From center to right tackle, the unit is great.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINES AND LINEBACKERS
If games were won and lost on reputation, the Giants’ D-line would be among the scariest units in the league. Damon Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are all All-Pro/Pro Bowl players, yet New York ranks 31st against the run and is tied for 30th in sacks. The stars are not living up to the hype. Surely, it hasn’t helped that roughly all of their linebackers are on injured reserve. The Eagles still rank No. 1 against the run, though they’ve looked a little shaky of late, and are tied for ninth in sacks. Their defensive end rotation with Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Bennett is becoming quite dangerous, with 20.5 sacks between them.

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Don’t worry, the Giants’ issues on defense aren’t limited to the front seven. The club also ranks 31st against the pass, and unlike so many other areas of the roster, injuries aren’t solely to blame. Janoris Jenkins was hurt all year and eventually landed on IR. For Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, it’s been a question of effort and will they or won’t they quit on their teammates. Apple has since been benched and left on the inactives list. The Eagles’ secondary has its flaws, but attitude isn’t one of them. They’re also an opportunistic bunch, with three players — Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod and Patrick Robinson — with three interceptions, and three more with two.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS
As bad as the Eagles’ special teams have been for at times this season, the Giants have been worse. Their kicking game stinks — Aldrick Rosas has made only 75.0 percent of field-goal tries. Their coverage units stink, with a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown. And their return game stinks, with a 19.4 average on kickoffs and a 5.1 average on punts. We’re going to assume the re-signing of Bryan Braman this week (see story) fixes some of the issues the Eagles have experienced, and they’re back to being one of the top all-around units in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING
Ben McAdoo had one of the most meteoric rises and falls you will ever see. In a matter of three years, McAdoo was hailed as a genius for reinventing Manning, usurped the head coaching job from Tom Coughlin, and guided the Giants to the playoffs. Eleven months later, he was out of a job. Perennially overrated defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over in the interim, so no groundbreaking changes on the sideline for the time being. McAdoo’s timeline might be a cautionary tale for Doug Pederson and the Eagles. As far as this game is concerned, the staff that’s not in the midst of upheaval has the edge.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OVERALL
There was no shortage of warning signs for New York heading into 2017. Sure, they managed to go 11-5 and make the playoffs a year ago but had not won more than seven games in any of the previous three seasons. I’m not sure anybody saw 2-11 coming, although, with an aging quarterback, shaky offensive line, and no running game, the Giants needed their defense to shoulder the load. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The Eagles have the injury under center, but I’ll take Foles with his roster over the current version of Manning and his crew of flunkies. And I wouldn’t think twice.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

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ESPN broadcast

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

You will not find Billy Donovan on the Thunder's injury report after Friday's game against the Sixers.

But Oklahoma City's head coach may be icing down alongside his players or popping a few Advil.

Why?

Donovan took an errant pass straight to his face during the Sixers-Thunder game at the Wells Fargo Center. Richaun Holmes was looking to collect an assist on a JJ Redick jumper, but the Sixers' big man put a little too much mustard on the pass.

The one-handed dish went right to Donovan … who was not ready to catch it, and why would he be? Holmes also just barely missed former Sixers player and head coach, Maurice Cheeks, who is an assistant under Donovan.

At least that was Holmes' only turnover of the game.