PHI_BLAKE

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin couldn’t bear to watch Sunday’s penalty-kick shootout against Nashville SC – even if his team boasts goalkeeper Andre Blake.

The Jamaican international made two saves and factored into two other attempts going skyward, settling what finished as a 1-1 draw after extra time. It was the latest star-studded moment from Blake at Subaru Park, this one sending Philadelphia to their first Eastern Conference Final in Audi MLS Cup Playoffs history.

“We've had some tough penalty kick shootouts here in Union history, but this one, every kick that they took I was almost laughing to myself just when I went off the reaction of the fans, it was nonstop, them going crazy,” Curtin said. “It just felt like as they missed one, then they missed two. You almost knew the third and fourth were going to be a miss because it built so much pressure. 

“And that's where home-field advantage does come in, shooting in front of the river end isn't easy. By Andre making the first save, it really puts the pressure on their group.”

Blake stopped opening spot-kicks from Hany Mukhtar and Anibal Godoy, then Alex Muyl and Walker Zimmerman sailed theirs toward the Sons of Ben supporters’ group section. His confidence surged as each Music City shooter stepped up, using his imposing wingspan and instincts to great effect.

“I knew that first save would have been very big,” Blake said. “That kind of gave me some momentum, gave my teammates some confidence and definitely put the opposite team under some pressure. That was a very crucial save and making the second one, I think after that they were really nervous and didn't know what to do.”

PK scores from the Union duo of Jack McGlynn and Jack Elliott were enough, not even requiring them to reach the order’s back end. Hungarian international midfielder Daniel Gazdag was slated to be Philadelphia’s fifth shooter, his first-half stoppage-time goal previously canceling out Mukhtar’s 38th-minute opener.

“I wanted to be the superhero of the game, but our keeper stole the show,” Gazdag said. “He's very good and I want to say congrats to him because I think he's the best keeper in the league.”

Blake earned Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2020 and placed second in this year’s voting, behind New England Revolution and US men's national team backstop Matt Turner. They’re both part of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying, helping their country chase Qatar 2022 spots via the Octagonal.

Those experiences make Blake no stranger to big moments for club and country, having entered the professional ranks as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 SuperDraft after starring at NCAA Division I side UConn. He truly became Philadelphia’s starter during the 2016 campaign and hasn’t looked back since, helping them lift last year’s Supporters’ Shield and reach the Concacaf Champions League semifinals this fall among a growing list of accomplishments.

“I've been at the club for eight years, going onto nine,” Blake said. “I've been here since we would struggle to make the playoffs. So this club has really come a long way and this new group of guys over the last three, four years have been doing a fantastic job.

“We've taken this club to the next level and the fans appreciate it and we're starting to write some new history and starting to put this club in the mix when you talk about the best teams in MLS. So for us, we're humbled, we're honored. But we don't mind staying the underdogs, to be honest, and just go about our business and just keep winning games and be a team that nobody talks about but a team that's very successful.”

Philadelphia are still eligible to host MLS Cup on Dec. 11, depending on how next weekend’s Conference Finals pan out. They’re the East’s No. 2 seed and will either travel to face the top-seeded New England or welcome No. 4 New York City FC to Chester next Sunday evening (3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes).

Whichever situation arises, Blake knows more big showings are required.

“Soccer is about moments and when it's your moment, nobody can really take that from you or nobody can really stop you,” the 31-year-old said. “Tonight was one of those moments for me and I'm very thankful for that. Again, hopefully come next week it doesn't have to be me but can be a moment for somebody else and then MLS Cup somebody else and we win the whole thing. We keep working hard and hopefully this great moment continues for us.”