CHESTER, Pa. – To say the Philadelphia Union have had a merry-go-round of goalkeepers during the franchise’s six years of existence would be an understatement.
Perhaps that’s why Union head coach Jim Curtin is wary of saying that, after a good string of games, former top overall SuperDraft pick Andre Blake is ready to solve all of the club’s problems at the position.
But this much is clear: Blake will start Philly’s final two games of the regular season, including Sunday’s tilt against the New York Red Bulls (3 pm ET; MLS LIVE), and have the leg up to remain the starter heading into the 2016 season and beyond.
And there suddenly seems to be a lot more optimism in Union camp about a position that has caused the club so much trouble over the years.
“He’s shown that he can be the guy to make the big save to keep you in a game, to win you a game, so we’re very high on him right now,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference Wednesday. “I don’t want to announce anything, but the hope is that he is in the mix to be the guy going forward to solve the goalkeeping [situation].”
The Union, of course, have always had high hopes for Blake, for whom they traded up to take with the first overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. But the ex-UConn standout failed to get much playing time behind Zac MacMath and Rais Mbolhi during his rookie season and suffered two knee injuries this year when both of those players were sent away and a path to the starting lineup opened.
It wasn’t until late August when Blake finally got his chance, and he’s made the most of the opportunity, making 21 saves in four league appearances and getting the starting nod in the US Open Cup final. He’s also gotten back into the national team picture, most recently traveling to South Korea to play in a friendly for Jamaica on Tuesday.
The Reggae Boys dropped a 3-0 decision to South Korea, but Curtin said Blake made some good saves in the game and will be ready to go Sunday at Red Bull Arena as the Union hope to put a dent in their rivals’ Supporters’ Shield hopes.
“The off-the-field mentality that he’s shown is very impressive,” Curtin said. “He’s a humble, laid-back kid. I’ve always told him, ‘When you get the chance, run with it.’ He’s done a very good job for us.
“People in the league have taken notice,” the Union coach added. “A lot of the players are talking to me, a lot of the coaches are talking to me and they have their eye on Andre as well. We’re obviously thrilled for him because, yes, it’s taken a while for the No. 1 pick to show himself and be his true self. But hopefully all of that’s in the past and we’re moving forward.”
Before leaving for international duty, Blake had three straight memorable games, making a franchise-high 10 saves vs. New England, making five more stops in Philly’s heartbreaking Open Cup final loss to Sporting Kansas City before exiting for the PK shootout, and then making a stunning save on a Sebastian Giovinco free kick in Toronto (see above) which nearly earned him MLS Save of the Week honors.
- Find more Union news and notes at PhiladelphiaUnion.com
Blake, however, finds it hard to get too excited when his team narrowly missed out on its first trophy and has been eliminated from playoff contention with two games left.
“It’s been great but I’m more of a team person,” Blake told MLSsoccer.com before leaving for South Korea. “It’s not an individual sport. For me, it’s a great accomplishment that I’m doing well, but I think I would be even happier if my success was with the team’s success.”
Of course, if Blake continues to play this well moving into next season, that could certainly help change the course of the franchise. And now fully healthy after two major knee surgeries, Blake is ready to do just that and finally give the club some stability at the goalkeeping position.
“Hopefully that’s the long-term plan,” the 24-year-old Jamaican said. “But I just want to take it one step at a time, keep working on the simple things and keep doing what I’ve got to do to turn my individual success into team success.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.