Andre Blake and Jamiro Monteiro have been cleared to play for the Union in the playoff opener Tuesday against New England, news that the team hoped for but didn’t expect.
Blake has been rehabbing the right hand he fractured in the win over Chicago on Oct. 28. He got back on the field in recent days, and manager Jim Curtin said Monday that his stalwart goalkeeper was “ready to go” after training in full for the last three days.
Monteiro has been exempted from Major League Soccer’s nine-day quarantine mandate for players returning from their national teams, after the league chartered flights back to the U.S. for a wide range of its players who went abroad this month. It was a huge expense for MLS, and it coincidentally came just a few days before the league laid off 20% of its headquarters staff, which raised quite a few eyebrows among fans.
Just because Monteiro was chartered back home doesn’t mean he fully avoided the coronavirus while with Cape Verde’s national team, which played a home-and-away series with Rwanda on Nov. 12 and 17. But the league claims to be sufficiently satisfied that keeping players away from commercial flights is enough.
Curtin said Monteiro passed a PCR test before leaving Cape Verde, then another upon returning to Philadelphia, and was cleared to practice.
Unfortunately, backup right back Olivier Mbaizo wasn’t able to get a charter flight home from Cameroon because he left his green card in Philadelphia. He thus had to fly home commercial, and is quarantining as a result. If the Union beat New England and advance to play Orlando City on Sunday, Mbaizo should be available.
The playoffs have gotten off to one of the most explosive starts in MLS’ s 25-year history. Three games have seen tying or winning goals in stoppage time, including New England’s win over Montreal in the opening game of the postseason. Three games have gone to penalty kick shootouts, including Dallas’ win over Portland late Sunday night that was the first road victory of the postseason.
Orlando ousted New York City FC on penalties on Saturday in one of the most extraordinary shootouts you’ll ever see. Lions goalkeeper Pedro Gallese appeared to make the winning save but was flagged for coming off his line too early. That earned him a yellow card, and because he’d already gotten one earlier in the game, Gallese was ejected.
The referees then got the rules wrong and allowed Orlando to sub in a new goalkeeper, then realized their mistake and sent that goalkeeper back to the bench. Defender Rodrigo Schlegel, who had played goalkeeper some as a kid, went in net and stunningly made a save, prompting a raucous celebration — but Orlando still had one kick to take. Benji Michel finally took it and blasted it in.
A day later, the referees involved were suspended from working games for the rest of the playoffs.
Sunday’s Kansas City-San Jose game was even crazier. Both teams scored in stoppage time to make the score 3-3 in regulation. Then Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia saved all three penalties he faced in the shootout — a feat never achieved before in MLS history.
There have also been two straightforward 3-0 wins by home teams: Nashville over Miami and Minnesota over Colorado. Curtin would of course prefer that his team deliver one of those, and let his players know it in a film session Monday.
“All the games were incredibly exciting, that’s for sure — sometimes for not great reasons,” he said. “We’ll have to be disciplined, be focused. We prefer not to play in a wild, exciting game. As fun as that is for you guys, it’s not fun for us.”