Andre Blake LA

SAN JOSE, Calif. – “I’m looking pretty fine over here.”

Andre Blake’s words connote more of a surprise discovery than a boast. Hair immaculate, garbed in a 2023 Philadelphia Union goalkeeping kit and one of this year’s snappy new anthem jackets, he’s just caught a glimpse of himself on a camera screen as he makes the rounds from station to station during MLS media day, and liked what he saw.

“You didn't tell me that,” he playfully scolded a Union communications staffer as the rest of the room bursts into laughter. “I'm looking pretty fine.”

Blake’s face broke into a broad grin, and he vowed to keep it that way even through a lengthy list of interviews and promotional appointments at the San Jose Convention Center. The 2022 Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year sees that as a matter of both personality and pragmatism.

“You have to do this,” said the Jamaican of his wisecracking. “Because if you just [frown], it's gonna be a long day. So you have to try to find ways to create the positive vibration to get you through the day, right?”

We "go again"

He admits the sunny outlook his countryman Bob Marley rendered a global phenomenon was tested by the heartbreaking conclusion to Philly’s 2022 campaign. That epic 3-3 extra-time MLS Cup final slugfest vs. LAFC that so profoundly entertained millions of us? It’s been gnawing at the insides of the losing side all winter.

“It did,” said Blake, whose defense had conceded more than two goals in a match just twice all season before that memorable barnburner in Los Angeles. “It had me the entire offseason. I had a chance to get away from the sport a little bit, find some distractions, but it's there. It's not going anywhere. But it's gone. There's nothing we can do about it. Now it's in the past. But we have an opportunity to go again.”

Coming within seconds of a league championship before the combination of a last-gasp Gareth Bale header and a taut penalty-kick shootout snatched it away: That early November afternoon visited a rare type of agony on the Union.

Blake, now 32 and entering his 10th year as a professional, took refuge in a tried-and-true offseason ritual. He, his wife Shauna and their two young sons go ‘back a yard,’ to borrow a phrase from the island’s dialect, to unplug and immerse themselves in family life in and around May Pen, Jamaica.

“When I'm home, nothing bothers me, to be honest,” said Blake, a proud captain of the Reggae Boyz who since 2021 has also owned and operated a sports bar near his hometown. “There's no anxiety issues, there's nothing. I’m just home, I'm busy. I don't have enough time when I'm home. So it's good, and then you get to miss the sport a little bit. So once you get back into it, you get to appreciate it a little bit more.

“For me personally, it's necessary, it works. You have to get away. Take some time away, miss it, reflect. And then, alright, it's time to go again. It's time to go again.”

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Andre Blake was selected first overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas.

MLS Cup chase

A similar expression of relentlessness from Steven Gerrard in 2014 became woven into Liverpool FC yore. It might prove a useful mantra for Blake, Union coach Jim Curtin and their colleagues as they aim to convert pain into fuel for another climb up the MLS mountaintop – and a few others while they’re at it.

“There's a bunch of trophies to play for this year. We have Supporters’ Shield, Open Cup, Leagues Cup, the MLS Cup, and we're also in the [Concacaf\] Champions League,” said Blake. “We're a club that, we want to win everything, every time. So we're going to go after everything. Jim made that clear, which I think is the right decision. And hopefully this year we can lift some more silverware.”

Having taken part in the entirety of Philly’s painstaking rise from perennial strugglers to Eastern Conference powerhouse, he feels an urgency to cap it with some more titles above and beyond their capture of the 2020 Shield, the first major hardware in the club’s history. Curtin himself spoke of it this week, as he declared his desire to win an MLS Cup before he moves on to test himself in Europe or at the international level.

All that coexists with a collective commitment to the daily grind of dogged self-improvement.

“We have kind of established ourselves as a club that gets a little better every year. And we cherish that,” Blake explained. “That's the locker room that we create. That's the culture, that's the environment that we try to create.

“Most importantly, we're bringing back most, if not all our players from last year, so there is that familiarity, which is very important for team chemistry. So hopefully we can rerun what we did last year – and go a little bit further.”

As the most recognizable face of an egalitarian team proud to spurn the star-centric norms of the league, Blake often becomes the Union's representative among MLS elite, alongside luminaries like Carlos Vela and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. While he uses terms like “honor,” “respect” and “motivation” to describe those experiences, a trace of that trademark Philly defiance can be detected as he discusses counterparts around the league.

“We respect everybody. But we're not worried about anybody,” he said. “We're a small club, but we're fearless. And that's what makes us who we are.

“That's the mentality of Philadelphia. We know the big names. Those are the games that motivate us. Those are the teams that we want to beat. So we know LAFC is going to be stacking up this year again, I see [Inter\] Miami trying to get these big names. We're not built that way. We are the little club with the no-name players that are hungry to beat the big-name players. So it's fun.”

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Andre Blake has 65 shutouts in 205 regular-season matches.

Life beyond MLS?

Blake stacked up another set of personal accolades as the Union set a new MLS record for defensive stinginess in '22, claiming his third career GKOTY prize – the first and only 'keeper in league history to do so – in addition to All-Star and Best XI presented by Continental Tire nods.

All of which draws red lines under perhaps the biggest mystery of his career so far. Why, despite recurring reports of interest from England and beyond, has no club from abroad swooped in with a transfer offer like the ones that spirited his former teammates Brenden and Paxten Aaronson, Mark McKenzie and Austin Trusty across the Atlantic?

Is there more out there beyond Philly for Blake?

“I hope, I hope,” he said with a sigh. “I don't know why, I’ll just leave it at that. Maybe there's something more that I don't know. Maybe who is supposed to believe, don't believe. I don't know. But I know I’m more than capable of playing overseas. I haven’t had the chance.

“I'm going to bloom wherever I'm planted, you know?” he added. “And while I'm here, I'm going to keep making noise, I'm going to keep trying to get better, because that is what I can control. And hopefully somebody comes. And if nobody comes, then I’ll keep doing what I'm doing here.”

Those will be welcome words for Union supporters as they count down to their season opener vs. Columbus Crew at Subaru Park on Feb. 25 (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). Philly’s second CCL adventure kicks off a few weeks later in El Salvador with a Round of 16 first-leg clash with Alianza on March 7.