Commentary

As Jamaica crashes out, Blake returns home

Photo: Earl Gardner

It is difficult to perform more poorly in a major tournament than Jamaica did in the Copa America Centenario.

Three consecutive losses. No goals scored — unless you count an own goal sloppily bumbled into the net by Je-Vaughn Watson — to five for their opponents. Eliminated before their last match kicked off in Santa Clara, playing out the string against an even more disappointing Uruguay side in front of a disinterested crowd of 40,166 tickets sold and many more maroon red seats.

But there was one bright spot for the Reggae Boyz, and it will come as no surprise to the Union faithful that it came from keeper Andre Blake.

With the Jamaican backline frequently outclassed and subject to waves of pressure, Philadelphia’s star shot-stopper showed off his leonine movement and world-class reflexes to keep Jamaica in all three contests. One save, a diving stop off a Venezuelan corner kick with the Jamaicans down to ten men, earned Blake an appearance on SportsCenter’s Top 10. (Speaking on Monday night, Blake told PSP that the save would be the one moment he’d always remember from the tournament.)

Against Uruguay on Monday night, it was more of the same. Blake stoned Hull City’s Abel Hernandez on a breakaway early in the first half. Blessed with exceptional physical gifts — that rare combination of size, grace, and reflexes — it seems that regular playing time with Philadelphia sharpened Blake’s reading of the play. He was off his line to cut down the angle even before Hernandez sliced through the disoriented backline to make an outstanding stop.

Now, Uruguay did end up winning 3-0. Abel Hernandez got the better of Blake later in the first half, a perfectly hit finish just over the charging keeper. The aforementioned own goal followed in the second half, and Uruguay put the finishing touches on the match by sending Matias Corujo clean in on goal with just minutes left to play, firing the ball past a stranded Blake.

“It’s not a good feeling, one that I’ll probably not want to have again in my lifetime,” Blake observed after Monday night’s defeat. “But it’s a learning process, and I’ve definitely gained a lot more experience.”

Now, it’s back to Philadelphia, where there’s been a lot more winning than losing in 2016, and the Jamaican is eager to get back into the fray. It seems unlikely that Blake, fresh off a cross-country flight and three international starts in ten days, will be called upon to start against City Islanders in the Open Cup on Wednesday. When I asked him about it, Blake said with a chuckle that he and Jim Curtin hadn’t discussed the topic.

It was clear, though, that despite the three defeats he felt the tournament was a valuable experience.

“You know, as a young goalkeeper the more games you play the better it is for you, and playing against Mexico or Uruguay, it was big for me,” Blake said.

For a player with a bright future — including, if there is any justice in the world, the starting goalkeeper position on the MLS All-Star Team next month — the Copa America Centenario was another step on the slow staircase of professional growth.

For now, though, it’ll feel good to go back into a winning side.

“I’ve learned a few [things],” Blake said confidently on Monday night. “Hopefully I can take [them] back and get back to winning ways with the Union and stay on top of the table.”

And then he walked down the Levi’s Stadium service tunnel, towards a bus and a plane that would take him back to Philadelphia, back to the title chase, and back to the raucous fans in the River End who roar with pride at every miraculous save.

16 Comments

  1. Lucky Striker says:

    Andre the Jamaican Giant.

  2. “Leonine movement” — very nice, Peter.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    Hopefully Curtin will give him a well deserved rest Wednesday night. Even though the Open Cup is important, given the opponent, it would reflect poorly on the rest of the team if playing Blake over McCarthy/Jones is the difference between advancing and not.

    • pragmatist says:

      +1. They are both capable enough to man the net for one game. He can play in later rounds, but settle down, take a night off, and get ready for Saturday.

  4. Saves by Dre! Watched every Jamaica game to see him in action against some of the world’s best. He definitely proved he deserves to be on that level. I hope this exposure doesn’t cause a big european club to come scoop him away from Philly.

    • i’d start preparing…. only a matter of time.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Sadly, yup.
        .
        The club will score some green from it.

      • scottymac says:

        MLS / the club will score some green.

        A club shall receive the transfer or loan fee revenue (including agent fees and other expenses) from any transaction involving a Generation adidas Player or player acquired via the MLS SuperDraft based on the number of MLS service years:

        MLS Service Years
        Transfer/Loan Fee Revenue to Club
        1 = 1/3
        2 = 1/2

        If he’s sold this winter we get half.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Doens’t he have 3 years of service? He was drafted in 2014 (before signing Voldemort), then was hurt a good portion of last year, and has come into his own this year.

      • .
        First the One Ring gets its money.

    • pragmatist says:

      We all know it’s coming. Hope for 2 more years of service.

  5. Even though I find the phrase annoying, I think my feeling on Blake being back so soon can be summed up as “sorry not sorry”.

  6. I readily admit to my favorite teams in the Copa America being the USA and whomever was playing Jamaica….wanted to see them crash out so we got Andre back….sorry, but I’m selfish!!!

    • Section 114 (Formerly) says:

      I felt really good rooting for Andre because I was confident that Jamaica didn’t belong (except for the keeper). And, you know what, they didn’t. But he was tremendous and I look forward to having him here for another year or two. Welcome back Andre!

  7. philpillas says:

    Bragging rights. We knew him when. He can be an all-time great.

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