Head coach Jim Curtin's core squad is one that has played its share of big matches, both domestic and international, including two runs to the Concacaf Champions League semifinals, one of which came this year. So they understand the mindset needed to get the needed result.
And, perhaps most importantly, they also have Andre Blake, that safety valve in goal who can change the momentum of a match at a moment’s notice.
Such was the case Saturday night in the Union’s Leagues Cup opener, which ended in a comfortable 3-1 victory over nine-man Club Tijuana at Subaru Park. But the Jamaican international and three-time Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year came up with another example of why Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin calls him the “best goalkeeper in the league.”
The Union led 2-0 before the half-hour mark on a penalty kick goal by Dániel Gazdag and Julian Carranza’s first of two goals on the night. Xolos also went down a man in the 19th minute on a DOGSO red card shown to center back Nicolás Díaz.
From there, Philadelphia went into cruise control, only to be punished early in the second half with Carlos González scoring just after the break followed by Alexis Canelo stepping up to the penalty spot for the possible equalizer three minutes later.
But Blake came up with a massive save, diving to deny the PK and helping shift momentum back to the hosts.
“Our goalkeeper is the best in the league. I think that's clear to anyone except maybe the All-Star team but yeah, he's incredible,” said Curtin, referring to Blake’s snub for the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target. “We’re really lucky to have him, he made some big saves tonight. Obviously, the PK at that moment can really change the game and he made a big play for us because if it goes 2-2, you’re in a scramble and you're in a real dogfight and you've given them a lot of belief.”
In a match where Curtin wasn’t readily delivering plaudits to his players, Blake, who had four saves, was a noticeable exception.
“I can't say enough good things about Andre, another incredible performance even in the first half, three or four saves that he makes look easy that aren't easy, I'll just say that,” Curtin said. "Special player and I hope he wears a Union jersey for the rest of his life.”
The Union have a quick turnaround to their second and final group stage match, hosting Liga MX's Querétaro on Wednesday night (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). The battle-tested group knows what’s at stake.
“Overall we know we need to get better,” Curtin said. “It is kind of a good thing that there's a lot of room for improvement for our group now, play ourselves into the competition now and set ourselves up in a good spot if we take care of business and control things against Querétaro, we go through as a top seed which means we stay in this building which you guys know the record. We're pretty good here.”
And Blake is good everywhere.