Opinion / Signing News / Union

Andre Blake is not the answer

Philadelphia Union supporters have been waiting for some big news this offseason. Money-spending assurances were made, and everyone has been anxiously awaiting a big-player signing. Maybe a new No. 10 or a winger.

Instead, the big news thus far is Andre Blake signing an extension. This isn’t the splash everyone truly wanted.

Now, I should begin by praising Andre Blake, because he deserves it. The 27-year-old Jamaican star is coming off another great campaign in 2017, after winning the Goalkeeper of the Year award and earning a spot in the Major League Soccer best XI in 2016. He’s kept 15 clean sheets over the past two seasons and has saved nearly 200 shots.

He’s a dynamite goalkeeper, and, frankly, he deserves to be the highest paid in MLS. I just don’t think the Union should be the team paying him.

Any true soccer fan that’s watched Blake over the past few seasons should be impressed. Not only is he a difference maker, but he’s been a match winner. I can remember a handful of matches in which Blake single-handedly prevented a blowout. Over the past two years, he leads the league in catches (69) and is fifth in saves. Those are the numbers you can’t dispute and they go right alongside his eye-catching, acrobatic saves.

But there’s a somewhat harsh reality that goes along with the story of Andre Blake: he hasn’t been good enough. Not to say that he hasn’t done his job (and then some), but rather that maybe no goalkeeper would have been good enough for the Union this past season.

The reality is that despite giving up far fewer goals than some of the Eastern Conference competition, the Union were still almost three full matches off a playoff spot at the end of the season. It held the only positive goal differential in the bottom half of the conference and still wasn’t close to the top half. What does that say? It’s a loaded question, as the Eastern conference was vastly improved, but from a team standpoint, it says the Union had other major problems.

Where would the club have finished without Blake? Maybe dead last. You can argue that’s reason to resign him, but you can also argue it’s reason to use the targeted allocation money in different areas of the team. I would argue the latter for a couple reasons.

First, scoring goals was an issue for a lot of the year. Without a another breakthrough season from Chris Pontius and some lingering injuries in the attack, goals were mostly coming from one player in C.J. Sapong. Now, again, it’s important to note just how good Sapong was — it was a career-best effort and he absolutely deserves his recent call-up to the U.S. National team. But why can’t the team build on that? How many goals would he have scored with a world-class No. 10 behind him?

These are the questions I would ask either right next to or before those regarding Blake. Sapong is an above-average MLS striker, but he’s not a solo game-changer like Sebastian Giovinco or David Villa. He won’t blow by you with pace, and he’s not a dynamic dribbler — he simply needs some help. That could come from a No. 10 or it could come from the outside, but I’m under the impression that Sapong can be even better than what fans saw in 2017.

Second is a much less talked about subject: backup goalkeeper John McCarthy. In short, I think he’s very good. So much so that I’ve never once singled him out or blamed him for a Union loss. Is he better than Blake? Of course not. It’s not even close. But keep in mind Blake very well could be the league’s best — that’s an awfully high bar.

To me, McCarthy has been way more than suitable as a keeper in MLS and he has a lot to do with why I thought the Union would sell Blake this offseason. There is no doubt it would have been a drop-off between the pipes, but I’d argue it’s not a huge one. I’d argue it would have been justifiable and even beneficial for the Union to lean on McCarthy this season. Then there would be money to spend on other positions. After all, that’s what owner Jay Sugarman said he would do.

I fully understand him backing Blake and justifying the deal. He’s a fine player to build around, but not with the Union’s financial structure. The more serious supporters will be pleased with this signing and can recognize what Blake brings, but I feel now that the casual fan won’t get their huge offseason signing. There just may not be room for it.

And that’s the other important part of this discussion — goalkeepers don’t sell seats. As incredible as Blake is, casual fans don’t want to venture down to Chester and watch opposing shots be blocked. They want to watch the Union score goals, and that means something. Think about what bringing a player like David Villa into the team would do for the fanbase. Think about the excitement it would trigger. It may not be possible, but it should be. Even signing David De Gea or Hugo Lloris to the club wouldn’t have nearly the same impact has signing a high-profile attacker. That’s simply the nature of the sport and it’s not Blake’s fault.

I’ve put aside his ambitions and European interest for the sake of this piece because if he truly loves being in Philadelphia and is committed to the club, I very much respect that. Issues with getting a work visa in England aside, good for him. And unquestionably, it will be good for the Union as well. He will block many more shots and drop many more jaws in the years to come.

I just think the money could be put to better use.

22 Comments

  1. I find it hard to argue your point. The Union seem to have a penchant for defense and over paying for it, in a league where defense generally comes cheap. It boggles the mind what the Union strategy is.

  2. John P. O'Donnell Jr says:

    You left out what would the Union get if they sold Blake and the answer is not much. With the rules in place now, the Union would only get back 67% of the transfer with the rest going to the league. Depending on what they sell him for, is it worth it? He’s listed at 1.35 million in value which isn’t bad but that gives the team just $904,500 back and only allowing them to spend $650,000 on the roster. Part of the problem is England isn’t a destination as he can’t get a work visa there so which other league is willing to spend that much? The answer might be he’s not bringing in what he’s listed at. I’m guessing Ernie thinks you don’t sell now especially with rumors of the rules changing in the future on player transfer fees and the chance of him improving his value. Besides they have plenty of money still, it’s just a matter of being willing to buy and well….

    • I made the same argument here a few days ago. Transfrmarkt actually has Blake at 800,000 Euros, which is just shy of $1 million, which would mean the team would end up with $650 – $670,000. If they hang on to him just a bit longer until the transfer rules change — and maybe the new keeper coach can help him improve that distribution — you sell then and add some $300,000 to your coffers. That could buy a pretty good MLS player. He’s a keeper. He’s got a lot of productive years ahead of him.

      And yes, you can’t really evaluate this move until the book closes on the offseason. Game is getting late, but it’s not over yet.

      • Totally agree. And while I hate it as much as anyone and think it’s bad business, the game is really only starting as far as Union history goes. We always sign players late for whatever reason (reason: we are cheap).

  3. As I mentioned in a different thread, goalkeeper is the one position where America produces more than enough serviceable bodies that provide good value on the dollar. Blake is great and a difference maker, but a true money ball team doesn’t allocate that much of its resources to that position. I’m not convinced McCarthy is a full time MLS starter, but if he isn’t, getting one isn’t hard.

    Then again, the Union will not spend that money wisely anyway, so Blake might as well have it.

    See no matter what the subject, no matter how you look at it, it’s pretty much hopeless.

  4. As annoying as this point of view may be, I’m choosing to wait until we are closer to opening day to judge this move. If it is the only significant move, then pull our all the knives. If we only sign Academy players, or fringes pros, then loose your verbal arrows towards the FO.
    .
    But if there are quality signings in the wings and this is simply a piece of the puzzle, then I don’t have a problem at all with it.
    .
    When the Phillies moved into the Bank, they overpaid for Jim Thome. It was a sign that they were ready to challenge, and it sent a message to their young farm players that the organization was committed. That led to the greatest period of sustained success in franchise history (before RAJ destroyed it by overpaying EVERYONE).
    .
    The good news is that we won’t have to wait long to find out if there is any validity to this theory. If no one comes in by mid-February, then this comment was a complete waste of space. But if we pull in some Almiron type of player (I know, not likely, but stick with me), this could be the beginning of something positive.
    .
    Preseason hasn’t started. Earnie does not allow rumors or leaks. There will be time to overreact, but not yet. In the meantime, I don’t think anyone is rushing out to buy tickets, anyway.

  5. el Pachyderm says:

    strange when your ‘best’ player is also an albatross?
    .

  6. This is a good piece. If the team didn’t want these stories to be discussed or even thought of, maybe they should be making other moves. With all the different mechanisms in place in MLS, there can we a lot of wheeling and dealing done. Seems strange to think now, but maybe some of those players being resigned (ilsinho) was a sign of what’s to come.

  7. It is possible that the signing indicates Andre believes in what is coming. I cannot say further because I have never talked with him.
    .
    Two other points that do not rise to the level of more formal mention:
    .
    Look at the pattern of the coach signings. The men have both already been working with the organization — time period admittedly unknown — and only now are their signings being formally announced.
    .
    Yesterday Steel communications had a “get acquainted” — my phrase not theirs — conference call with the three new signings. One mentioned that he had only been practicing for two or three days and that he wouldn’t know the answer to my question until the coaches started coming around.
    .
    That means there are already what the Eagles and the Phillies call voluntary workouts. If they are road-testing new people, to make sure the organization is right for them and they are right for the organization, something that jibes with my impression of how the FO likes to do things, they are protecting both parties with their secrecy.
    .
    That which I just wrote is rampant speculation, but I was a history teacher, not a scientist. I am allowed to develop a full field theory explaining the universe on the basis of one datum, if that datum is legitimately the only evidence available.
    .
    And I will put this personal opinion out there to be shredded, I am not expecting great things this year. It is the season after that I anticipate. There is a reason Earnie Stewart would sign only a five year deal, not a three year. I expect his fifth year to be the one on which he will hang his future.

    • Every other team in MLS understands it can (and must) compete now and plan for the future. Union FO seems to be a notable exception, in a league where half the teams make the playoffs.

      .

      I’m sorry you’re willing to write off another year. I’m not. Union might find themselves out of business at this rate.

    • Or the reason that Stewart wanted a five year deal as you claim is because he was taking a huge risk in leaving AZ to come to the Union and if it didn’t work out, he would at least be compensated for it.

      Or like everyone else in the world, he prefers a longer contract than a shorter one because of the security that a longer contract provides.

    • I respect your opinion on the Steel players as you see a lot of that team, so I’ll ask you this regarding your statement about ‘next-next year’ – will any of the kids at Steel now or in the academy be able in two years to join the first team and have the kind of impact that the players Atlanta is signing? Will they play at the level of Altidore/Bradley/Giovinco in Toronto? Is the Union’s Diego Valeri down there? Heck, is there a Josh Sargent there? Or Tyler Adams?

      I would think if Steel and the academy had as much talent as the front office likes to lead fans to believe that other MLS teams and teams from Europe would be trying hard to acquire these players. I’m sorry, I just don’t see it.

  8. My problem with Blake is that the system the Union aspire to play starts with the ball being played out of the back and he has terrible technical skills with his feet (not to mention little to no accuracy with his passes).
    .
    It seems like every single time the ball is played back to him [to switch the field], he chooses to boot it up field and we lose possession (or it goes out of bounds).
    .
    How or why do you make him such a highly paid member of your team when he doesn’t truly fit the system you aspire to play?
    .
    #confused
    .
    #fallingfromthecliffofUNIONdespair
    .
    #havewehitbottomyet

  9. John P. O'Donnell Jr says:

    Hold on now. TAM let’s you buy down over budget money down to 150K. He had to sign for over 505K as that’s the over budget number this year. Saving 350K on the budget can get you a nice player after they buy it down. Smart MLS business if you ask me. Now if they change the rule or Blake’s value goes up, you can get it back.

    • I’m more in line with this thinking. There is a lot more Garber Bucks floating around out there this year. Although re-signing Blake doesn’t technically make the Union better, it keeps them from getting worse.
      .
      McCarthy absolutely plays his heart out every time he’s on the pitch, but he has not yet matured into a full time MLS keeper. I’m still weary of depending on him as a back-up with the various concussions he’s sustained over the years.
      .
      Obviously, none of us want this to be the highlight of the offseason, but I think it’s pretty good business by the Union. We will get our money back at some point with Blake.

      • Except most of the increase in allocation money this year is self-funded by the clubs, not given to the clubs by MLS.

    • Or you could sign a GK at what most above average GK are paid, say $250k, have 255k of cap room and still have the 350k of TAM so the club would have 600k to spend on players.

  10. I find this piece perplexing. Of course Andre Blake is “not the answer”, because the Union missed the playoffs the last 2 years even with his excellent play. But that doesn’t mean you get rid of what worked well.

    And as for the Moneyball argument… we’ll have to see the contract to really know, but I would argue — and this piece argues — that Blake is himself a game-changer. If we figure he’s making $400K a year, is that worth it for a game-changing player? Hell yes it is. And it doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of signing a #10. That depends on how the overall budget works out.

    Finally, while it’s true that goalkeepers don’t generally people in seats, there are a small number who do. And I’d argue that Andre Blake is one of them. The guy is a one-man highlight reel. Being able to watch him play is a significant contributor to my wanting to come to Talen to watch a match. (Now whether I do so at all this year depends on whether they have some major signings in the next 6 weeks…)

    P.S. The “poor distribution” argument has never made much sense to me either. Part of that is probably on the coaching staff, not Dre. And even insofar as it is on him, I’d rather take a stellar shot-stopper and try to get him to improve his distribution than vice versa.

    • Totally agree here.
      Awesome GK-worth every penny–, above average hard driving striker with Sapong. Alex Bedoya. Haris.
      Even Keagan in 2016.
      Talent there…at least far more than last two years of results indicate.
      To me answer involves coaching…from practice field to melding that talent together to lineups to subs to adjusting to setbacks during the game.
      Jim Curtin is a guy you want to have a beer with…but he has to show the team and the fans he can change himself and his style.
      UnionGoal

  11. Insanity….. ……… Blake is great but the team needs so much more. This team is going nowhere until they get a number 10 with the same or better skills then Barnetta.. Too bad they can’t dump Simpson and get a better second forward.. Erniec screwed up big time up On tthe Simpson contrac and now they are stuck with him for a year. Sapong has a lot of grit but can’t do it alone.They need to sign a proven skilled 10 or this team iwill finish out of the playoffs and going backwards. I love Blake but I don’t ger any satisfaction when we lose 2 to 1 when it could have easily been 3 or 4 to 1 but Blake made some amazing saves. it’s still a loss Curtin . Is management insane! It’s not acceptable Sugarman you need to sell the team to an owner who is willing to not accept mediocrity.

  12. If you believe they will do as they’ve said and spend money on impact players, great move.
    .
    If you do not believe they will spend, it’s just an ok move for the on field product. We didn’t get any better. We’re not one bit more competitive today than yesterday.
    .
    The table stakes have risen and the Union have given no reason but words to believe them. The current roster is awful. There’s one intl spot open. If you feel some HGs will make this team a contender, lines are open to renew ticket plans.
    .
    Lord knows they need your cash.

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