Statistics: John McCarthy vs. Andre Blake

Photo: Earl Gardner

It’s been about eight months now since the Philadelphia Union announced the signing of Rais Mbolhi and unwittingly became the butt of several thousand goalkeeping jokes. After being peppered with Nick Sakiewicz’s phrases such as “He played in a little tournament over in Brazil,”and “We have three of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer,” we’ve seen a bizarre and uncomfortable situation completely blow up.

Of last year’s three goalkeepers, Zac MacMath is on loan to Colorado and unlikely to re-sign when his contract expires at the end of the season, Mbolhi has been asked to leave the team for the time being with emerging reports suggesting interest in the Algerian from teams in Turkey, and Andre Blake is continuing his recovery from a preseason knee injury.

In their absence, the Union goal has been filled, and reasonably protected, by a certain John McCarthy, who is likely making the league minimum and simultaneously posting the twelfth best save percentage among goalkeepers with three or more starts.

In taking over the starting role in these last three games, McCarthy has taken the state of the Union goalkeeping from a position of despair to a position of great promise. More importantly, he has come into an unenviable situation and done a solid job against a number of world class attackers. It’d be naive to tell you that he’s been an elite goalkeeper, but his personality and performance boosted his team in a position where it was desperately needed.

For the following stats, I’ve added in rebounds cleared successfully and unsuccessfully. A rebound (following a parry) clearance is considered successful if it lands outside the danger zone, which I consider the area within the width of the six yard box extending 25 yards from the goal-line.

Blake-McCarthy stats

Some quick notes on the above:

  • Blake’s statistics do not include the Crystal Palace game as there was no full match replay available. In the following highlights, I have Blake saving 4 of 4 shots on goal while catching two and parrying two. Those two parries led to unsuccessful rebound clearances. He also allowed an own goal on a miscommunication with Ethan White.
  • I chose to not include the own goal in Andre Blake’s save percentage, as I feel that it doesn’t accurately reflect his ability to save opposing shots on target.
  • Two of Blake’s interceptions came outside the box and were cleared with his feet, not parried or caught.
John McCarthy

While McCarthy’s play deserves a great deal of praise, his game possesses several flaws that demand improvement. In the small sample size of three games, McCarthy has proven himself as a reliable shot stopper, but he understandably lacks chemistry with the Union backline, as evidenced by a number of failed interceptions with one of his defenders already in place to make a play. His distribution also needs improvement, as he’s acknowledged interviews with PSP.

McCarthy is not the best goalkeeper in MLS, and he likely isn’t the best goalkeeper on the Union roster, but in only three MLS starts, he has shown great potential and excellent character. He’s a guy who is very easy to root for, and at the very least, he should have a solid MLS career.

Also know that with the Gold Cup looming, John McCarthy is far from done this season, regardless of who starts next game.

Andre Blake

His MLS arrival came with a great deal of promise, but Andre Blake sat the bench for most of 2014. He made four starts, including two Open Cup matchups, one midseason friendly against Crystal Palace, and one MLS start against the Houston Dynamo.

Those four games have shown that Blake possesses a rare combination of athleticism and shot stopping ability, along with the talent to comfortably play with the ball at his feet. But despite these qualities, he is still a raw goalkeeper who needs games to accelerate his development.

As I said back in the offseason, Andre Blake has the most upside of the current goalkeeping trio by a longshot (granted, I also said that Mbolhi was also the most polished of the group). If Jim Curtin provides him with the starts, we have every reason to believe that he will develop into the elite level goalkeeper his team desperately needs.

It’s still very early in their collective careers, but John McCarthy and Andre Blake have given the Union faithful a lot to look forward to. And with these two on the roster, Philadelphia’s goalkeeping core may finally be in good hands.


  1. The goalkeeping core will be in good hands, until Sak fucks everything up again!

  2. I think the biggest difference could be style. McCarthy is more of a traditional keeper while Blake has the tools to be a sweeper keeper along the lines of Manuel Neuer. I don’t know if the Union fans can handle that especially with our defense being up in the air.

    • you hit on something here…..Manuel Neuer is how they want all keepers these days. As athletes get bigger, stronger, and faster…..the logic is to play a high line…and have an athletic, footy savy/technical keeper that can play behind them. Neuer was a great example…..there are many more keepers of that mold today than there are of your “classic keeper”. What I’m surprised at is……..McCarthy played that way growing up too…..I’ve seen it. I wonder with more matches under his belt and as his confidence grows….if he’ll return to that type of keeper. You have to be in modern footy.

      • While everyone is on the “sweeper keeper” bandwagon I really don’t think that is the best classification for how Neuer plays. His defensive positioning, awareness, and ability to play with his feet makes people think of him as a sweeper, but this is more out of necessity for the teams style of play at Bayern then Neuer style. I would call him more of a reactive keeper (because he moves quicker and more instinctively then other keepers as opposed to the classic vs sweeper keeper comparison. You don’t have to be this style of keeper in soccer to be a good keeper it ultimately depends on your team and the system around you. Think of Thibaut Courtois great keeper, but would not say he plays anywhere near the same style as Neuer. There are many other none sweeper keepers to that could be considered great (Casillas, Lloris, de Gea, Howard, Buffon, Cech). The Union do not need a sweeper keeper what they need is someone who is organizationally aware, good at defensive positioning, and can lead the back line with a strong voice. While MLS does not have the greatest keepers in the world you can easily make comparisons in last weeks game vs NE of differences between our keeper and theirs. Shuttleworth was screaming at his back line positioning everyone marking them up telling them who was on the backside I mean you can hear him screaming over the announcers. McCarthy while doing well for a rookie does not have the awareness or leadership right now to put people in the right position to succeed. So until he gets that awareness it is going to be more of the same from the Union goalkeepers. But to suggest that in modern footy you have to have a sweeper keeper is just not correct nor should it be the model the Union are trying to strive towards with their keeper

      • Well Neuer is just a freak of nature so maybe he wasn’t the best of comparison.
        I think Blakes instincts and athleticism make him more of a sweeper keeper. With our backline being what it is life can get a bit nervy for the Union until the defense can cohesively gel.
        And that may or may not ever happen.

      • True Neuer is a freak of nature. However i don’t think the Union need a sweeper keeper they need the cohesive gel as you were saying and they could get that through their keeper if they teach them right. Faryd Mondragon had this presence and its what this club needs along the backline. MacMath was learning that Blake and McCarthy can learn it if they are taught well, but they ultimately need the right person to teach them.

  3. Why was this written?

    Are we to decide who will be the starter when Blake is healthy? Is 270 minutes enough to make a real comparison statistically? Did you really just say McCarthy has brought the goalkeeping position to “one of great promise”? What is that promise, that fans in the rows 1-12 in midfield will likely be struck by his distribution? Why bring up price – McCarthy is making the league minimum and not mention Blake is Gen Adidas and not on the books, don’t get anymore minimum than that.

    Are you justifying your new replica McCarthy away jersey?

    • Davis Russell says:

      Why was this written?
      I wrote it because we have reached the point where Andre Blake has now been practicing with for a couple of weeks and is coming back into shape. One of these two (I’d have to assume Blake) will likely be named the starter soon.
      Are we to decide who will be the starter?
      No, but I think that looking at these statistics gives readers a more tangible idea of what they’ve done so far.
      Is 270 minutes enough to make a real comparison?
      Yes and no. Again, the stats give us a tangible example of what’s been done thus far. We can draw conclusions that Blake is more aggressive off his line and much better with the ball at his feet. We can also draw that both keepers need to work on their rebound control, as parrying or punching shots into dangerous areas won’t help their defense succeed.
      Did I really just say that McCarthy has brought great promise?
      Yes, I did. He’s a 21 year old goalkeeper with one year of professional experience. One month ago, he had never played against an MLS team. He isn’t an incredible goalkeeper, but for a team that has never had a keeper (outside of an aging Mondragon) that was considered solid, his performance gives us cause for optimism. He has every reason to have a successful career if he can clean up his distribution, which is clearly fixable, and improve his command of the box.
      Why bring up price?
      Our Algerian DP goalkeeper made 240k last year and is reportedly making even more this year while posting the second worst goals against average and worst save percentage of keepers with three or more starts, while our league minimum 3rd stringer has fared far better.
      Am I justifying my new replica McCarthy away jersey?
      As my bio says, I wear a 2010 away jersey, and for the record, it has no name or number.

      • Sorry, to say this but a 21 year old goalkeeper with this little experience does not bring promise to this position. If you want to talk about what could’ve brought promise to this organization from a goalkeeper standpoint why not talk about the 22 year old goalkeeper with a 1.3 GAA and over 100 MLS starts under his belt that this team loaned away. Yes, I did just say MacMath had promise (and yes maybe he is 23 now), but still had promise and still does. What was the point of going back to rookies again? Plus talking salary MacMath I believe was making around 100K a year or lower. This FO office just screwed up, but we should not go putting hopes on a rookie goalkeeper just cause he’s from PA. He can not and will not save this team and neither will Blake. Can they be better then they currently are? Yes. Would I say either has great promise yet? No, let me see them through at least half a season before we say they have promise in this league.

      • Davis Russell says:

        I feel that McCarthy’s play leaves a good base to build off of in the future and I think that there’s every reason to believe he can be a success. I’m in no way saying that he’s destined for stardom, but that he’ll have a good career.
        While I’m certainly not supporting the Union’s move to ostracize MacMath and sign Mbolhi, the reality is that after starting for a few years, MacMath just isn’t good enough as a goalkeeper. He’s been putting together average to below average seasons as a goal keeper for years now. Again, I don’t agree with the front office’s methodology, but that doesn’t change that MacMath is no more than an average level MLS goalkeeper.

      • As far as MacMath as an average keeper in MLS I put him slightly above average, because if you think of the inconsistent backlines he had (for example Aaron Wheeler experiment) he did above average for a rookie coming into that situation. Plus he came into that situation way before he ever should have. He needed 2 more years learning under Mondragon before he should’ve came into the league. To start at 20 like MacMath did and still come out after 4 seasons with 1.36 GAA with a Union quality backline is impressive. I mean Jimmy Neilsen one of the MLS best keepers over those same four seasons had 0.98 GAA in the regular season and he had a damn good consistent backline and way more experience of play. I’m just saying hoping and being optimistic and laying things at the rookies feet to save this team is a bad approach to take right now. Cause if he is in fact good enough this team will clearly give him away like they do everyone else. Plus ultimately you would have to think the Blake will get more starts then McCarthy before all is said and done. I mean the great keeper “who played in a little tournament in Brazil” played 9 games and had a 1.44 GAA with a Union back line that had 3 out of 4 of the same players. I guess all I’m saying is this never should’ve even been an issue that had to be spoken on if things were done right.

      • I think you’re confusing relief with optimism. We’re relieved he hasn’t been too bad,and better than MBolhi’s poor play. If he’s playing in July or this is some keeper controversy, there is zero cause for optimism. It would mean that Blake, who just a year ago was considered MLS ready out of the draft has failed and that trading up and not using the chance to take the CBs everyone thought the U would is an even bigger failure. We grabbed 4 out of 9 points with McCarthy, don’t go drinking the PR kool aid that he’s the answer. He’s a band aid on a good day.

  4. He manifests the problem of most USA keepers. Because they are put in their positions at too early an age, they do not play in the field enough, thus have poor distribution skills and have little idea about what the defenders can and can not do. they are all poor when they must play with their feet.A good goalie can distribute the ball as if he were a field player. That is a huge advantage, but the USA goalies soccer sense is poor, and athleticism can only cover up deficiencies of awareness for only so long. 21 is ALWAYS too young and I hope he doesnt get ruined by having such demands placed on him. He is a liability and we must hope he does a decent job.

  5. So we are never going to see Mbolhi again? The current plan is to let him stay in France indefinitely, he is not just on a short rest to get his head together?

    This is looking more and more like an epic screw-up.

    Even the Macmath fans/Mbolhi skeptics like me never thought it would go this badly……

  6. Put in Blake. We drafted him 1st overall last year. We even traded up to get him. Let him take his lumps with this team now. It will give us a greater chance to succeed in the short term. I’ve been on the Blake bandwagon since day 1. Whatever it takes to start playing him consistently is what I want to happen.

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