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

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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.

No excuse for how Sixers handled draft night trade of Mikal Bridges

No excuse for how Sixers handled draft night trade of Mikal Bridges

To be perfectly honest, I can’t tell you a whole lot about Mikal Bridges, other than he’s a Villanova product and two-time national champion. I can’t tell you a thing about Zhaire Smith. And an unprotected first-round pick in 2021 is so far away, it could really be anything, or change hands three more times until then.

I don’t know if the Sixers were winners or losers at the NBA draft after trading Bridges to Phoenix for Smith and the Miami pick. Nobody knows that. We all have our opinions, but we don’t know.

The only thing anybody can say for certain is the organization should be embarrassed, no matter how this plays out on a basketball court.

The Sixers should be embarrassed, but not because the front office took a risk or made an unpopular decision. Love it or hate it, the trade was made with a clear vision, and it took courage for Brett Brown the interim general manager to give his OK, realizing it wasn’t necessarily the best move for Brett Brown the head coach in the immediate. Fortune sometimes favors the bold.

No, the Sixers should be embarrassed for pulling a bait-and-switch on Bridges, a 21-year-old kid and Philadelphia hero, while he was on live TV talking about how ecstatic his mom was he would be playing pro basketball in his hometown. Draft night trades are the norm in the NBA, so why would an NBA team put a young man and his family in that position less than 30 minutes after the selection was made?

Especially when, all the while, Brown was still fielding offers for Bridges.

“The phones were active and we knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose him,” Brown said after the conclusion of the first round. “We didn’t rate it to be a godfather type of deal, something that would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much.

“Then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected [first-round pick], plus our 1B in Zhaire, who we valued very highly, and you’re in a position that you’re on the clock and you have a decision to make.”

The Sixers should be embarrassed by the latest in an increasingly long line of public relations blunders. If this were the only example of the organization’s ineptitude, it would be unfortunate, but forgivable. Instead, it was par for the course.

This is the same organization that took its sweet time ousting Bryan Colangelo amid a bizarre social media scandal mere weeks ago; that never convincingly explained the mysterious circumstances that led to Markelle Fultz sitting out most of his rookie season; that has frequently and publicly feuded with Joel Embiid over playing time; that was previously caught hiding major Embiid injury information from fans; that has a medical team constantly under fire for its inability to quickly and accurately diagnose injuries; that just endured years of bad PR for tanking, until it finally reached a point where the league allegedly stepped in and had to force Sam Hinkie out. Did we miss anything? Probably.

No, I don’t think we’re making too much about a press conference. Too often for far too long, the Sixers have come off as dysfunctional in far too many arenas, and it can't be endearing to the likes of LeBron James, other top-tier free agents and available veteran players or even the organization's own stars.

At least one person in the building seemed to understand how sensitive a situation this was.

“I live in this city with you all,” said Brown. “I watch Villanova. I love (Bridges’) mom. I love his college coach. There’s a human side of this that’s really kind of hard to explain.

“The emotion of what we have all been through has been painful, but what’s best for the organization and how do you win a championship? And since I’ve looked at you all, I haven’t pivoted out of that once. So, the torment of trying to do my job in the very limited role in the moment I have as general manager versus the role that I have as head coach of this program, it’s a toggle, and this is where we arrived.”

Too bad Brown apparently didn’t have a chance to convey that to members of the Sixers' staff before they prematurely started the victory parade.

“All of those emotions and all of those facts happened in a 20-, 25-minute window,” Brown said.

A 20-, 25-minute window is all the Sixers need to make an awkward situation worse. Brown, the fans and, most of all, Bridges and his family all deserved better on Thursday night.

More on the Sixers

The Sixers and the Suns trade ... barbs on Twitter

The Sixers and the Suns trade ... barbs on Twitter

Joel Embiid wasn't the only one throwing shade at the Phoenix Suns on Thursday evening.

The Philadelphia 76ers' official Twitter account got in on the action after the Suns tossed some shade in their direction.

It all started with a tweet while Mikal Bridges was still a member of the 76ers' squad. @Sixers posted some highlights of Bridges from his Villanova days. Harmless enough.

Then Bridges got traded to the Suns for Zhaire Smith and an unprotected first round pick in 2021. It appears as if the original highlights tweet was deleted but the @Suns had receipts.

That's when the @Suns tossed a jab.

The Sixers didn't take it lying down.

Who you got in the battle of the hoops nerds behind the team Twitter accounts?

Just remember: don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.

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