Union Notes: Santos available for selection, Blake has "renewed confidence"

The Philadelphia Union should receive a boost to their forward corps for Tuesday night's clash with Inter Miami at the MLS is Back tournament.

Sergio Santos, who missed the win over New York City FC with an upper leg strain, trained Friday and Saturday in advance of the late-night kickoff, which can be heard on Fox Sports The Gambler.

Forward Michee Ngalina joined Santos back in training, while Andrew Wooten is behind the pair in his recovery. All three were listed with upper leg strains on the team's injury report.

“Michee has returned to training. Sergio Santos is fully in training the past two days. He’ll be available for selection and Wooten would be a little bit behind them. He’s getting closer and closer to returning to training," Union manager Jim Curtin said Sunday.

In Thursday's Group A match, Kacper Przybylko did not receive much support from Ilsinho in the complementary striker role.

If Santos enters the lineup, the Union should benefit from Przybylko's hold-up play and physical abilities and Santos' blistering pace off the ball. Santos' presence would also help Przybylko remain centralized.

In some stretches Thursday, Przybylko drifted out to the flank to get on the ball, but that left the center empty at portions. If Santos takes on that responsibility along with Alejandro Bedoya, Brenden Aaronson and Jamiro Monteiro, Przybylko should have a more centralized heat map Tuesday night.

Curtin mentioned Ilsinho, Aaronson and Bedoya are all in good shape after leaving the field with cramps Thursday.

Andre Blake playing with "renewed confidence"

Andre Blake's seven-save performance versus NYCFC was one of his better performances in recent memory.

At times during the 2019 season, the Jamaican had some questionable decision-making, and that led to a few goals conceded, including one in the playoff victory over the New York Red Bulls.

Blake has looked more confident in his positioning and with other intricacies of the position, and Curtin has taken note.

“Over the last three-and-a-half months, the players have put in a ton of work and Andre would be no different," Curtin said. "He’s come in with a real renewed confidence. He’s been a great leader in our locker room, and most importantly, the performance he had against NYCFC is something that makes our team feel very comfortable, and especially in a knockout-type tournament, a hot goalkeeper is a very powerful thing."

“As the game went on and we got a little fatigued and New York City was coming at us, as we knew they would, you need your goalkeeper to make some big saves and Andre made some really, really important crucial saves down the stretch," Curtin said. "It’s great knowing we have him behind us so our midfield and back line can be aggressive because we know even if we make a mistake, he’s there to bail us out. I think it was one of his best games."

Blake has 15 saves in the last two matches. He made eight against Los Angeles FC in March, which produced his best two-game run since the middle of the 2017 campaign.

“It’s always good for me to be able to do my job effectively to help the team to win," Blake said. "It’s important now to just keep going and build off the last performance, not just individually, but as a team and to keep getting better."

Containing Jose Martinez's Aggressiveness

Jose Martinez is the early front-runner for the title of top offseason signing.

The Venezuelan central midfielder made the third-most touches of any Union player with 50, recorded three clearances and three tackles and was active any time the ball was near him Thursday.

He was taken off in the 72nd minute because the Union feared he would pick up a second yellow card due to his aggressive nature of play.

Philadelphia's staff has continued to work with Martinez on the adjustment process from the Venezuelan first division and the new intricacies he has experienced in MLS.

“I never want to take aggression away from a player," Curtin said. "Maybe our league is refereed different than the Venezuelan league so there’s still an adjustment and adapting period where maybe tackles that he’s used to making in that league could maybe warrant a yellow card here. One of the favored qualities he has is he’s always around the ball, he’s always involved in any kind of confrontation because he is so competitive and wants to win. I think it’s something all of our players have grown to respect with Jose. He empties his tank not only in games, but in every training session, and is a good example for how we want to play the game. He’s a guy that a lot of the other players love already."

“What maybe gets missed is how well he passes the ball too," Curtin said. "The crispness of his passes, the weight is always right. It’s never too far in front or behind. He’s really improved a great deal and is getting more used to our style of play and the principles we want to implement. He’s a big part of our team right now and he breaks up a lot of plays in the middle of the field, but we have to keep him on the good side of the razor’s edge and not have any red cards."

Martinez was whistled for a team high three fouls Thursday, and the booking could have been prevented if he forced Maxi Moralez away from goal.

If he channels the aggression in a positive manner, Martinez could have a similar impact on midfield as Kai Wagner did in his first MLS season in defense as an unheralded signing.

Other Notes

Speaking of Wagner, Curtin delivered praise for the German left-back after he made his first start since the playoff exit in Atlanta in late October.

"I thought Kai had an excellent game in terms of winning his duels, defending, getting stuck, even in spaces where he’s one-on-one and making a big tackle," Curtin said. "He has the ability to play for me and in any league in the world. I think he’s that talented and it’s at a position, where let’s be blunt, there’s not a lot of good left backs in the world. Kai is a very strong one and we’re very fortunate to have him. I thought he had a really strong performance. Some of the tackles, down to the 90th minute, where I thought maybe our legs were starting to fade, he found that extra bit of energy to make a big play and big tackle."

Curtin noted center back still has the toughest competition, but the shutout produced by Mark McKenzie and Jack Elliott could give them the advantage to start Tuesday.

"Center back is one of the positions where we have the luxury of rotating and not having much fall off," Curtin said. "That is something we’ve talked about. Obviously, when you earn a shutout, you’re happy with that. Both Mark and Jack played great games for us and made a lot of big plays, but they also put a lot into the game, and we have Jakob (Glesnes) and (Aurelien) Collin that can come in and do a job as well. We’ll make a decision on that one."

“When you watch Miami attack, whether it’s (Rodolfo) Pizarro, who comes in now, (Juan) Agudelo, the young kid (Julian) Carranza is very talented. They have a really dynamic front group of players," Curtin said.

Curtin noted the team will train at 9:30 p.m. ET Sunday and Monday to adjust in the best way possible to the unique 10:30 p.m. ET kick off Tuesday.

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