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Andre Blake ends a headline-making week with another star performance for the Union

“He’s a winner on and off the field, and you need men like that in the locker room,” Jim Curtin said of his star goalkeeper, who wore the captain's armband in Atlanta — just as he does for Jamaica.

Andre Blake (center) made five saves in the Union's scoreless tie in Atlanta, including this diving stop on the goal line against Atlanta United's Josef Martínez (left) in second-half stoppage time.
Andre Blake (center) made five saves in the Union's scoreless tie in Atlanta, including this diving stop on the goal line against Atlanta United's Josef Martínez (left) in second-half stoppage time.Read moreKylie Mocarski / Philadelphia Union

Most of last week’s conversations between Andre Blake and the Jamaican national team were held behind closed doors, or the online equivalent these days.

But you need not have been a fly on a wall in Kingston to figure Blake must have had plenty on his mind when Saturday’s Union game kicked off.

It was just 20 hours after the Jamaican Football Federation announced in a Friday night Twitter post that Blake was called up for the Reggae Boyz’ Sept. 27 friendly against Lionel Messi’s Argentina, four days after being omitted from the initial roster.

Whether you’re a fan of Blake’s club or country, you already knew of his incredible talents as a goalkeeper. But just in case anyone needed reminding, he was spectacular once again in the Union’s scoreless tie at Atlanta — a result that clinched a berth in next year’s Concacaf Champions League.

Atlanta threw the kitchen sink at the Union, badly needing a win in the playoff race. The Five Stripes came in wave after wave, from starters Dom Dwyer, Brooks Lennon, and Thiago Almada to substitutes Ronaldo Cisneros, Edwin Mosquera, and star Josef Martínez.

Blake repelled them all, displaying the full range of his talent in his five saves. He also made nine defensive recoveries of other kinds.

Toward the bottom of the box score, it said Atlanta’s expected goals total was 1.3. But at the top, there was a zero.

» READ MORE: Andre Blake’s heroics save the Union in 0-0 tie at Atlanta, and clinch a Champions League berth

Making five saves in a game is nothing new for Blake. This was the eighth time he’s done it this year, against a range of opponents. This time, it felt especially big, and Union manager Jim Curtin knew it.

“A lot of leadership’s been shown by Andre off the field, for his federation, standing up — which is not always easy when others maybe don’t have your back,” Curtin said. “To see him do that, deal with the things with the national team, to then put a performance on today, when a lot is probably going through his mind, overall, [I] couldn’t say enough about the performance that Andre Blake had.”

Whatever conversations Curtin had with Blake about the Jamaica situation will stay in the Union’s locker room. But those words, and some more Curtin offered, made it clear that he knew plenty about the situation.

“He’s a leader, he’s a winner on and off the field, and you need men like that in the locker room,” Curtin said. “That when things maybe aren’t going your very best, or the days are hard, or you need to stand up to certain higher powers, you need people brave enough to do it. And Andre fits that bill to a T.”

Coincidentally, Blake did something else on Saturday that he often does for Jamaica: wear a captain’s armband. With Alejandro Bedoya out with a hip flexor injury, Blake did the honors, as he regularly does when Bedoya doesn’t start.

“You know that Andre is going to take the captain’s band, and he’s going to do an incredible job leading our group,” Curtin said.

New Jamaica manager Heimir Hallgrimsson, who led his native Iceland to its first men’s World Cup in 2018, might have gotten word of this by now. After a clear-the-air meeting with Blake, Hallgrimsson told the Jamaica Observer that he found the controversy “a little bit embarrassing.”

Now, Hallgrimsson, said, “the case is settled,” Blake is back with the Reggae Boyz, and the boss looks forward to “cooperation with the captain and the team.”

If any more research is needed, Hallgrimsson can call an expert witness who grew up across the Norwegian Sea.

“He is a wall,” Union centerback Jakob Glesnes said. “He saved us again today, and he’s had an incredible season so far. It’s huge to play with a guy who is so good behind us.”

Now Blake can turn his attention to preparing for Messi and an Argentina squad that will also include superstars Ángel Di María (Juventus), Julián Álvarez (Manchester City), and Rodrigo de Paul (Atlético Madrid). There’s even a bit of MLS representation in Atlanta’s Thiago Almada, who fizzed a long-range shot just wide of Blake’s net in Saturday’s first half.

If Almada is asked for a scouting report, he’ll know which player to start with.

» READ MORE: Olivier Mbaizo stays focused on the Union while on the cusp of World Cup history

Union’s reserve team clinches playoff berth

The Union’s reserve team earned a berth in the MLS Next Pro playoffs on Sunday with a 3-1 win at the New England Revolution’s reserves in the regular-season finale. Matt Real, Jeremy Raffanello and Chris Donovan — all first-teamers who play with the reserves on occasion — scored in the first half, and the team rode that lead the rest of the way.

Union II, as the reserve team is officially known, finished third in the Eastern Conference (11-9-4, 40 points). They will play at second-place finisher Toronto FC II (12-9-3, 41 points) in the first round of the playoffs, on Saturday at 7 p.m. That will affect who’s available for the Union first team’s exhibition game against Mexico’s Pachuca on the same night (a 6 p.m. kickoff) at Subaru Park.

Columbus Crew 2 romped to first place in the conference with a 16-3-5 record and 55 points, the best in the entire league. They’ll play Rochester New York FC in the other Eastern semifinal.

The conference finals will be played from Sept. 30-Oct. 2, and the championship game will be Oct. 8. As with the senior level, the playoffs are all one-game rounds.

» READ MORE: Why aren’t there more Union fans? Our writers debate Philly fandom.