Union

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Union add attack power in Brazilian forward Sergio Santos

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Union add attack power in Brazilian forward Sergio Santos

Sporting director Ernst Tanner and the Union made their first big splash of the offseason on Friday by signing 24-year-old Brazilian forward Sergio Santos. 

Santos was acquired for a $500,000 transfer fee from Chilean Primera Division club Audax Italiano and was signed using Targeted Allocation Money. The length of the deal was not disclosed. 

“Sergio is a young forward with potential and we are pleased to complete his signing,” Tanner said in the team’s official release. “When we met with him in Chile, it became apparent that he is a good fit for our club both as a player and as a person.”

The move is intriguing for multiple reasons. The 6-foot center forward is the first impact addition from new sporting director Ernst Tanner, whose goal for the offseason was to make the Union a more offensive-oriented team with a potential two-forward setup. 

Secondly, Santos, who had nine goals in 16 matches for Audex last season, joins a busy Union attack corps that features Cory Burke, C.J. Sapong, David Accam and Fafa Picault. If only two of those five can play at any given time in Tanner’s formation, the team could look to ship someone out. 

Attacking pieces Jay Simpson, Fabian Herber and Marcus Epps were not retained for the 2019 season.

“We have observed rapid improvement and development at Audax,” Tanner said, “and believe he is ready for this next step. We next look forward to integrating him as quickly as possible with the team at the start of preseason.”

Union sign manager Jim Curtin to contract extension

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Union sign manager Jim Curtin to contract extension

Change is in the air for the Union, but not where you’d expect. 

The Union on Monday extended head coach Jim Curtin's contract for the 2019 season. Terms of the one-year deal were not disclosed.

“We’re continuing our collaboration,” sporting director Ernst Tanner said at the Union’s end-of-season press conference. “If the collaboration is going well, we’ll continue it.”

Maligned by Philadelphia fans, Curtin, who was out of contract following the season, landed fourth in MLS Coach of the Year voting and is coming off a record season for the Union, earning a franchise record 15 wins and the team’s third-ever playoff berth — its second in three seasons.

“I do understand the microscope in Philadelphia shines a little tougher,” Curtin said. “That comes with the territory of coaching in Philadelphia. There’s going to be scrutiny. I’m happy to be here, this club means a ton to me. Philadelphia is where I’m from and I look forward to 2019.” 

With Tanner taking putting his stamp on the club, Curtin could have easily been a casualty of new management. However, the Philly-native did enough to convince the new boss he’s worthy. 

“Jim led us to the playoffs for the second time in a three-year period,” Tanner said. “His relationship with the players is very good. He's an expert in developing young players, which will be a clear focus in the future.”

While Curtin is remaining, Tanner does want to see some change, especially in terms of the team’s on-field flexibility, aggressiveness and unpredictability. The manager's ability to accomplish Tanner's goals could determine his future beyond 2019.

"We need to make it a little bit more inconvenient to play us,” Tanner said. “I feel we are a little too easy to reckon, especially when everyone ahead of us knows we’re playing in a 4-2-3-1."

Though Curtin is sticking with the team, a number of long-time players and former prospects won’t be. On Monday, the club announced that it has declined contract options on defenders Richie Marquez and Josh Yaro, along with midfielders Marcus Epps, Fabian Herbers and Adam Najem. High-priced forward Jay Simpson and third-string goalkeeper Jake McGuire were also cut loose. 

MLS assist leader Borek Dockal saw his loan expire from Chinese club Henan Jianye. The full purchase price on the 30-year-old’s contract could be too rich for the Union, who are expected to be in the market for a new No. 10 if they can’t retain the playmaker.

"There's a possibility to bring him back but it's not in our hands," Tanner said. "Borek told us about his situation and wish to return to Europe, something we need to respect. If there's a chance to bring him back, we'll do it."

Backup goalkeeper John McCarthy, Warren Creavalle and Ray Gaddis are all out of contract, but all three have had discussions with the team. The Union specifically announced it is working on a new contract with veteran left back Fabinho.

“We’re going to scout now,” Tanner said.