Since the Philadelphia Union won the Supporters' Shield, they have made it a priority to sign their best players to contract extensions.
On Thursday, the Union inked the longest deal of the set by signing reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake to a deal that lasts through 2024 and has a club option for 2025.
In the last nine months, Blake, Kai Wagner, Jose Martinez, Kacper Przybylko and Cory Burke all signed extensions that last until at least the end of the 2022 campaign. Part of that money likely came from the multi-million dollar transfers of Brenden Aaronson to RB Salzburg and Mark McKenzie to Genk.
Additionally, head coach Jim Curtin and sporting director Ernst Tanner inked new extensions in the last few weeks. Curtin mentioned when his new deal was announced that Tanner received interest from other MLS clubs and ones in Europe because of the work he has done in Philadelphia.
The Union return home on Saturday to face D.C. United. The Union Pregame Show presented by DraftKings Sportsbook begins at 7 p.m. ET with Jon Jansen and Joe Tansey. JP Dellacamera and Danny Higginbotham will have the game call at 7:30 p.m. Kevin Kinkead joins Jansen and Tansey for the Union Postgame Show following the final whistle.
Philadelphia will be without Blake on Saturday and for the next few matches while he participates in the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup with Jamaica. Burke and Alvas Powell are also away with the Reggae Boyz.
Jamaica beat Suriname in its Gold Cup opener on Monday. It faces Guadeloupe on Friday and completes the group stage against Costa Rica on Tuesday.
If Jamaica beats Guadeloupe and Costa Rica defeats Suriname, the Reggae Boyz will be guaranteed to finish in first or second place in Group C, which will secure advancement into the quarterfinals. If that occurs, Jamaica would play a Group B team on July 25. That would take the Jamaican trio out of Thursday's road game against Orlando City and next Sunday's trip to face Inter Miami.
Matt Freese started in Blake's absence in the 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls, but he picked up a red card in the 57th minute. The suspension to the Homegrown goalkeeper forces Joe Bendik into the Union goal for the D.C. clash.
Bendik appeared in nine games over the last three seasons since he was acquired in a trade with the Columbus Crew in 2019. He is looking to end one of the most dubious runs in MLS. He has not won a match as a starter since 2018 when he was with Orlando City. The Columbus Crew went 0-1-5 in his six starts in 2019 and he has not won as a starter in Philadelphia. Bendik's last victory as a starting goalkeeper in MLS play came on May 6, 2018.
The Union will be without another starter in midfield. Jamiro Monteiro is serving a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation. That allows Curtin to give Daniel Gazdag a run out at the No. 10, which is the position he was brought into the team to play.
Curtin utilized Gazdag as the No. 8 in the loss to Nashville SC and as a second striker in the draw with the Red Bulls. The Hungarian produced two shots on target in that role last Thursday next to Kacper Przybylko.
With Gazdag dropped back to the No. 10, Sergio Santos should start alongside Przybylko. Santos scored his second league goal of the campaign to equalize at Red Bull Arena.
The Brazilian's goal should serve as a confidence boost for the player who scored once in his previous 12 appearances in league play this season.
Santos finished the 2020 regular season with six goals in a six-week span. If he gets on a similar run before Burke returns, the Union would feel more comfortable in the final third with a string of home games coming up in August.
The rest of the lineup picks itself with Monteiro and Burke out. Jose Martinez, Leon Flach and Alejandro Bedoya will play in midfield and the regular back four of Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott and Olivier Mbaizo should be in place.
Curtin said the club is hopeful that Ilsinho can play a role off the bench on Saturday. The Brazilian midfield wizard suffered an injury in his lone appearance of the regular season on April 24.
Anthony Fontana and Jack De Vries are still listed as out as they are in concussion protocol.
On Tuesday, the Union loaned out Matej Oravec to Železiarne Podbrezová in the Slovakian second division. Oravec came to the club from DAC Dunajska Streda before the 2020 season. He was beaten out by Martinez for the starting No. 6 role and never managed to consistently crack the matchday squad.
Oravec goes down as the lone major miss from the Tanner era. Andrew Wooten could be consider the other true miss in the last few years of transfer business, but he was at least on the pitch on a consistent basis during his year-and-a-half tenure.