Andre Blake was thrown directly into the deep end Saturday night in Montreal--and the Philadelphia Union's second-year goalkeeper did not drown.
In fact, Blake did what no Philadelphia goalkeeper had ever done before him, leading the Union to their first-ever win at Stade Saputo, making four saves and earning a shutout in his first start of the season.
“I once learned that if you don’t have nerves going into the game, the game doesn’t mean anything to you,” Blake said following the Union’s 1-0 road victory. “So definitely there were nerves. You’ve just got to learn to control it.”
Blake certainly didn’t show many nerves in what was only the second league game of his career, parrying away all four Impact shots on target and controlling the box to help spoil Didier Drogba’s MLS debut and send the Union to only their second road win of the season.
And even though Union head coach Jim Curtin acknowledged that Blake didn’t have to “do a ton,” he was still pleased with the goalkeeper’s performance in a hostile, sold-out road environment.
“We gave up four shots on goal and Andre did a great job being clean with them, not giving up rebounds on some pretty hard-hit shots from distance, coming out on crosses,” Curtin said. “It’s a huge confidence-builder for him because it’s been a while with two knee injuries for him to get his first look.”
It certainly has been tough sledding for Blake, who expected to see more playing time since the Union traded up to make him the first overall pick in the 2014 SuperDraft.
But the Jamaican international tore his meniscus in one knee in the preseason before tearing the other one in May. The latter injury prevented him from taking over as the Union’s starting ’keeper and also from getting minutes for Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
Blake has insisted he’s been completely healthy for a while now, but it wasn’t until Brian Sylvestre suffered a hand laceration and John McCarthy had some up-and-down performances in his last three league starts that Curtin decided to finally give a shot to the former No. 1 overall pick.
“He’s been very patient and we thought he deserved an opportunity and he stepped up and got a clean sheet,” Curtin said. “I’m very happy with him and hopefully we can ride that momentum now and start picking up points.”
Curtin confirmed that Blake, the fourth Union goalkeeper to play this season, will remain in net next Saturday when Philly hosts New England (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
Does that mean that the Union’s goalkeeping merry-go-round could be slowing down?
“I’m just going back to practice and working as hard as I can,” Blake said. “Whenever my number is called, I’ll be ready to help the team in whatever way possible.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.