Season Reviews / Union

Season review: Andre Blake

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The list of bright spots for the Union this year was short, even by Philadelphia standards. But once again Jamaican international Andre Blake’s performance in goal made him arguably the best player on the team. That isn’t to say there weren’t causes for concern, but on the whole, it was another great season from the Union’s keeper.

Reliable performance

The saves this season weren’t the high-flying acrobatics of last year, but they were enough to secure a second consecutive nomination for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Obviously, winning that award last season is the marquee achievement, but being nominated again shows that the quality of play Andre Blake delivered this year was at least comparable to last year.

If anything, the lack of stunning reaction saves speaks to his improved positioning in goal. His read on the game has improved, and as such, he’s more likely to be where he needs to be before a shot is even taken, making for more reliable if less spectacular protection of the goal.

His distribution has improved as well. That isn’t to say it’s great, as the Union still relied heavily on a good boot and bit of luck most times Blake sent the ball downfield. But there were more than a few attempts to play from the back this season. Obviously, this was helped by the surprise successes of Jack Elliott and Oguchi Onyewu, who are both confident enough with their feet to make getting the ball to Alejandro Bedoya or Haris Medunjanin a safe bet most of the time. And the threat of that buildup from behind, however thin that threat was, kept opponents honest. They had to defend the whole field, meaning fewer of them could get a head on the ball when a long ball did get played. Even though we’re talking about a goalkeeper here, that’s an offensive upside that helped the Union find goals even while suffering from lackluster play in the midfield.

Worries and fumbles

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. Like pretty much everyone wearing blue and gold this season, the beginning of the year was rough. But as the back line stabilized in front of him, Blake quickly returned to form, and goals stopped sneaking in quite so often.

Going into the Gold Cup break, there was buzz around this being Blake’s chance to shine, and shine he did. Jamaica allowed just two goals the entire tournament up until the final, in no small part due to the work of Blake, who also captained the side. The final was billed as the occasion for Blake to get noticed by a big European team and make the career jump his play surely deserves. But an unfortunate injury forced the Union player out of the game in the 23rd minute. He still won Golden Glove for the tournament, but one has to imagine the missed opportunity to showcase his skills could have an impact on his career.

The future

The real question as we look back on Andre Blake’s 2017 is where he will be in in 2018. He’s unquestionably the most valuable trade commodity on the Union roster, an up-and-coming keeper from an up-and-coming league and up-and-coming federation. There’s every reason to expect he’ll see interest, but it remains to be seen how he and the Union can capitalize on that interest to mutual benefit. By all means Blake deserves to test himself in Europe, just like the Union deserve to reap the financial benefits of selling his contract if he does. But outside a few shadowy rumors, nothing of substance has come forward. With one year left on his contract, it’s either this off-season or next year’s mid-season transfer window where we find out what lies ahead for the Jamaican.


  1. Sell sell sell.

    GK is the one position we produce in this country and you can find decent ones for cheap.

    Selling Blake could finance several TAM players + more investment in the academy all by himself.

    Sell sell sell.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    With all due respect to the time and energy required to write this article… I am clearly in the camp of, any assertion Andre Blake’s “distribution improved and there were more than a few attempts to play from the back” are assertions founded on hopeful optimism over empirical evidence. I watched every minute of every game save two outliers this season… they are ill equipped tactically which fall on the coach and technically which fall on the player to build play- and Andre is unfortunately at the head of this. Once again I saw 8 year olds at YSC this weekend consistently playing the ball through the goalkeeper. 8 year olds.
    I stand by my position again and again, it is egregious this is not more of an issue.

  3. Take precise note of the language used in the recent roster announcements.
    My read was that they had an option in his GA contract and exercised it.
    If I am correct in my surmise, he will be a free agent at the end of next season. I would assume a task ahead for the Union front office is to explore re-signing him.
    At first blush, I would be thinking as a Designated Player even though El Pachyderm’s distribution criticisms are on point.
    Parenthetical thought: Is it that the acrobatic saves were less present, or is it that they were less surprising as they were no longer unexpected? I hope Jim’s analysis about less frequent due to better positioning is correct. But I have listened for years to baseball commentators always use the cliche that the player who makes the great play to end the inning leads off for his team and gets a hit. What they forget is that the sequence stands out because it is unusual. Statistical analysis of the phenomenon would find the frequency does not support the commentator’s unscientific assumption, I have always thought.

  4. Have seen too much hoof and hope for me. I was hoping to see Andre play more to defenders feet. He can use the roll out or throw if he just feels more comfortable with that. Dont see him getting a ton of intrest till this improves. Maybe a new keeper coach will help. Still like the highlights. But need a little more from his distribution.

  5. I have to wonder how much of Blake’s tendency to “hoof and hope” as Montag puts it is on Curtin / the “game plan.” It doesn’t change the fact that Blake is no Jordan Pickford, but I’m sure if the coaching staff directed Blake to play the ball out of the back, he would do so.

    His other habit that drives me a little nuts is that he’ll collect a ball and hang on to it for an hour. Can’t recall him tossing a ball up for a quick counter attack. He runs to the top of the 18, waves his arms some, maybe yells, and then just punts it forward.

    He is a hell of a shot stopper though. Has to count for something. I’m sure some coaches out there feel like they can help the distribution shortcomings with the right planning.

    • Maybe I’m remembering things wrong, but when McCarthy was playing he had lots of quick outlet throws after he got the ball. I think this one really is on Blake, or the coaches not trusting him. I still think they could sell him pretty easy though for the reasons you stated.

      • Huh, you might be right. It’s funny. I’d think fixing distribution would be the easy part for a keeper. Way easier than mastering shot blocking….

      • You are right. McCarthy would hustle and roll the ball out wide to Gaddis or Fabinho or one of the wingers. Blake virtually never does this.

        I do think distribution is a major weakness for Blake, but, contra el P., I simply don’t think it rates nearly as highly as his amazing shot-stopping. I mean, that is a goalkeeper’s primary job. Take Blake out and you’d quickly see how much we depended on him this season.

      • I mostly agree, although the team looked just as good with McCarthy in there. Which surprised me.

      • JMac showed a lot of growth this season. He’s not a flying human highlight reel like Andre (who is?), but he put in some really solid games.

  6. +1 You cant teach athleticism! But tossing one out for a quick counter has to be taught! Yes it could be the game plan,could be any of the above stated reasons! I really hope to see more balls to feet to retain possession!!

  7. With regard to Blake’s future, folks seem to be discounting the thing with the Premier League team being unable to sign him because of Jamaica’s insufficient FIFA ranking and that change in their work rules. That is the most likely league for an English-speaking Carribean player — not sure how many CONCACAF keepers wind up in the Bundesliga or Ligue 1 or Serie A — and if those latter leagues don’t show interest, then Blake might actually end up staying in MLS for a while. (And I’d be plenty happy signing him to a DP contract.)

    • Really a stupid rule overall. Although I agree that I’m in no hurry to see him leave because I love watching him play. But I do feel like he’s earned a spot in a bigger league so I feel for him as a player.

  8. Selling is fine, but only if you trust the club to reinvest that money well. As currently constructed, Blake is a huge asset to this team, and keeps them in games.

    • I tend to lean this way. At this point MLS isn’t set up for a team to be able to turn a big profit from one player into buying another. I’m not sure how much we would truly benefit from selling Blake – even if we could get $10mil for him.
      Considering he’s one of the few reasons to watch this team right now, I’d be more in favor of keeping him for as long as we can (or at least through ’18).

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