A View from Afar / Union

With Supporters’ Shield on the line, who starts in goal?

Photo: Rob Simmons

Give me Andre Blake with one hand.

Blake in a sling, Blake with a cast. Put him on crutches, give him an eyepatch, none of it matters. Just make it Blake.

This Sunday, in the biggest match in Philadelphia Union history, with the Supporters’ Shield at stake, against a New England team he has owned his entire career, the Union need Andre Blake.

The goalkeeper stands sidelined with a fractured hand, reportedly scheduled for surgery today that should keep him out for at least two weeks — one week too long.

Had Blake played Sunday, the Union would now likely hold the Supporters’ Shield in all but math. Instead, with a trophy 90 minutes away for the fourth time in their history, Philadelphia fell short again.

The goalpost proved as cruel this time as it had when Vincent Nogueira pegged it in the dying moments of regulation in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup final. This time, Kacper Pzylbylko and Olivier Mbaizo each hit the post, the latter thanks to a fantastic save by Columbus goalkeeper Eloy Room.

Room was remarkable all night, recording eight saves, many of the highlight reel variety, to secure his club’s 2-1 win.

His performance held up the contrast for the Union.

In relief of Blake, backup Joe Bendik turned in a performance memorable for all the wrong reasons. He faced just three shots on goal and saved only the one directed right at him.

You can debate whether Bendik should have stopped Artur’s goal in the 37th minute, but I won’t. Blake saves it nine times out of ten.

Bendik’s 84th minute swing-and-miss was something else, a play that will live in infamy for years if the Union fail to win the shield. When Luiz Diaz lofted a cross past the face of goal, Bendik tap-danced hesitantly across his line, flapped one hand at the floater, and whiffed, leaving Krisztián Németh free to tap in the winner.

One bad game does not make a career, but it might end it. Out of form and short on confidence, Bendik appeared a shadow of the quality MLS starter he once was.

The loss left the Union one hope for the night, that former Union goalkeeper and hometown boy John McCarthy would come up big in goal for his new club, Inter Miami, and stop Toronto. Alas, he fell short too, as a late Toronto penalty kick sank Miami 2-1.

Now, the Union face a stark choice.

They still control their destiny in the regular season’s final match Sunday against New England. The Union enter the game tied in the standings with Toronto but ahead on tiebreakers. A win guarantees the shield. A draw or loss opens the path for Toronto, who visit a mediocre New York Red Bulls team that just got pasted 5-2 by New York City FC. The Union must play to win.

So do you play Blake despite the injury? Do you give him the choice?

Everyone here knows the answer you want.

You want to send him out.

No Bendik. No third string Matt Freese. No holding your breath every time the ball passes the 18.

You send out the player whose absence Sunday showed that he truly is the league’s most valuable player this year. You send out Andre Blake.

Yet, you remember the cautionary tale of Maurice Edu. You remember how the former U.S. international gutted his way through the 2015 U.S. Open Cup final despite a groin injury that probably should have kept him sidelined. 

Edu never played a game of top tier soccer again. His choice to play through injury paved the way for a stress fracture and other injuries that cost him the rest of his career. He was just 29 years old the day of the final. One wonders whether Jim Curtin, then a rookie head coach, now one of the league’s best, regrets that choice. 

Blake too is 29 years old, with half his career still ahead of him, but a goalkeeper needs both hands to make a career. With some things, you don’t mess around. 

But you know you want him out there against New England, even a week out of surgery. So do the Union. 

We don’t always get what we want.


  1. There is no way that Blake plays. Just no way.
    The Supporters Shield is, quite frankly, an award that is only important to fans of teams who don’t win in the playoffs. WIN IN THE PLAYOFFS with Blake
    I don’t really care about the CCL spot that comes with the Shield – WIN IN THE PLAYOFFS and it doesn’t matter
    I personally was shocked to see Bendik in the net instead of Freese. Freese was solid in his appearances last season before he got injured.
    After that performance yesterday, there is NO WAY that Bendik can be in the net for a game of the #1 seed in the Playoffs

    • I don’t even remember who won the cup last year, but I know LAFC was the best MLS team I’ve ever seen on a field.

      The Shield means a lot.

  2. I never thought I’d say this, but “Go Red Bull”…ugh, I feel so dirty.
    As far as who starts Sunday, I think Freese is probably the best choice. He didn’t look great with Union II, but I think he did win a game or two in 2019 when Blake was out.
    If Blake plays you run into a situation where Jamaica decides he’s healthy enough to play in their friendlies whereas keeping him out should give him a chance to heal by the playoffs since MLS Cup has to also be considered a real possibility.

  3. In Tanner We Trust says:

    I just hope the team remembers that they played well against Columbus. It wasn’t a choke job from the offense. That effort yesterday beats 90% of the teams in this league. And the defense allowed the same amount of shots on goal as they did against Toronto last week. They need to be better, and I think you strongly consider putting in Freese, but let’s not act like the team collapsed in Old So Union fashion.

    • yeh the way they came out in the second half was inspiring. There was a real urgency and jack elliot’s going to score a golazo soon if he keeps playing in this role. check out these stats:

      CLB PHI
      Adjusted goals 2.1 1.1
      Shot-based xG 1.2 2.5
      Non-shot xG 0.9 2.8

    • el Pachyderm says:

      spot on. the finishing was not finishing… which is why they were finished. otherwise I thought they played pretty well.

      • Eloy Room also had some fantastic saves he probably doesn’t make every day.

        It was two good teams facing each other, and both performed well.

    • Bendick made a mistake that all goalkeepers make. I won’t crucify him for that. He is in position to redeem himself in the next game. I have faith the union will give it all, because they have confidence and have developed a winning mentality! Head up Bendick! Go Union!

  4. dont be ridiculous. zero chance blake is playing. it should have been freese yesterday. an academy player vs a soon to retire backup? future potential vs experience? all made easier by how lost bendik looked subbing in for blake. the risk/reward potential of winning the shield with an academy player in goal was a great opportunity missed. now i think you have to double down on the decision and keep bendik for the Revs, hoping the cobwebs are dusted off

  5. 538 still has the Union at 82% to win the shield and 22% to win the cup (which are both up from last week). Union just need to take care of business at home.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      FiveThirtyEight does not do a good job of factoring in the likely future lineups. Their algorithm reflects past history more strongly than it does probable future reality, as do all predictive statistics.

  6. el Pachyderm says:

    I love the responses to this article. Makes me laugh…. Uh- I think it’s a tongue in cheek thing to proplery draw attention to how much a kick in the pants it is not having him. Though as I’ve argued elsewhere… it jsut is and I will refuse to blame his injury on the unthinkable of not winning one of the last two matches. Like most sports, you have to score more than the other team and this is a thing about wiinning.
    As for me.. I couldn’t agree more regarding the nature and tone of this article -which is perfect….. I’d take a one armed bandit over a full house everytime….Blake for POTUS.

  7. Agree that with Blake that was a win but the loss wasn’t Bendik’s fault alone.

    Not sure who I’d rather see next weekend – someone with a lot of experience but perhaps some confidence issues or the young guy who is unknown.

    That being said, if the last game of the regular season comes down to a New England DP taking a free kick in front of the river end with Bendik in goal and the Shield/1st in the East on the line I’ll feel justified saying “That’s so Union”.

  8. Yes, with Blake in goal Union would have won the last game but it was not Bendik’s fault we lost. Need to finish.

    Not sure if it’s better to have the experienced keeper with some confidence issues heading into a high pressure game or the untested one.

    That being said, if the Supporter’s Shield/1st in the East comes down to a New England DP taking a free kick in front of the River End with Bendik in goal and standing flat footed while watching the ball roll down the back of the net I’ll feel fully justified saying, “That’s so Union”.

  9. Give Bendik a chance to do better. Just like Blake was not too hot last year, Bendik can turn things around on Sunday.

  10. MLS website has a list of international callups. Good news is that neither Blake nor Burke are on Jamaica’s list. Bad news is Martinez is on Venezuela’s. Any chance the Union can avoid announcing a negative COVID test for him and keep him in quarantine for another couple of weeks?

  11. Never been a fan of Bendik. Freese, please. Curtin will choose Bendik.

  12. I’d go with Freese but I suspect Curtin will stick with Bendik unless he blows it in the NE game. I really hope Bendik doesn’t become another Negadelphia story along with this year’s team.
    . . .
    This team seems intent on not being just another dashed hope, and Bendik has to be thinking of that too. Given his struggles, does he want to be Nick Foles or Izel ‘Toast’ Jenkins? If he gets the job done, then he keeps playing for a few more years with a Shield and possibly more on his CV. If he blows it, then his career is likely over and his Wiki page will haunt him forever.
    . . .
    Obviously Blake can only return when approved by his doctors. It’s not only the humanitarian thing to do and on behalf of a man who has given so much production to us but also self-interest for him, the team and us. We have playoffs and new seasons to attend where Blake needs his hands back in healed and working order.
    . . .
    Let’s just get the Sheild and CCL and look to the playoffs for more. To me, the Shield and CCL matter too. It breaks us out of the pack of perennial ‘filler’ teams for other teams and their fans to experience recognized accomplishments and limelights, some often so. We need our own time in the sun in the big shows, putting awards on our stadium wall and on our scarves, etc.

  13. Got to go with Matt. Bendik is and always will be soft. Fractured hand takes at least 6 weeks to heal. Matt has got to step up to challange through the playoffs. defenders must rally around him.

  14. Bendick made a mistake that all goalkeepers make. I won’t crucify him for that. He is in position to redeem himself in the next game. I have faith the union will give it all, because they have confidence and have developed a winning mentality! Head up Bendick! Go Union!

  15. Can we have a fan meeting where we tell the Union that win or lose were behind them?

    This is different then those 3 cups. I hate that the pundits are even comparing them.

    Having said that you gotta beat the Revs.

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