Eating crow: Andre Blake in 2020

Photo by Paul Rudderow

When the dust settled in the 2019 Union’s failed playoff campaign, one player shouldered the blame for the team’s shortcomings and slide at the end of the year: goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Though he wasn’t bad in the team’s playoff loss to Atlanta, he was atrocious in their first round win against New York Red Bulls and had a truly forgetful season. Here was the summary from last year’s postseason review:

By any objective measure, Andre Blake was an average MLS goalkeeper this season. By some measures, he was well below average. By the goals minus expected goals number, he is coming off the worst season by a Major League Soccer goalkeeper on record.

Woof, as the kids say.

Author’s note: the goals minus expected goals stat is one that takes into account historical shot data from any given place on the field using a given body part and the frequency said shot is successful, and subtracts that number from the actual number of goals scored against a team.

In 2020, Blake regained the form that made him the first overall pick for the Union in 2015, an All-Star in 2016, and the regular starter for Jamiaca’s national team. He was so good in fact that he won the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year Award going away.

This author is serving himself a plate of crow for suggesting more than once it was time to move on from Blake. It was Blake who moved on from his past errors and there are two great reasons why.

Reason 1: Making the save

The simple answer to the question, “Why should a given team keep their starting goalkeeper?” comes down to this: he saves shots a replacement goalkeeper wouldn’t.

In 2019 Blake didn’t and was punished for it (and both of his replacements that year, though their sample sizes were small, were better at stopping shots than he). In 2020 he did and was awarded (and Union fans gathered at The Cliff when he went down injured late in the year).

This isn’t an opinion mind you, but a statistical fact.

  • 2019, he faced 103 shots over 26 games, saving 59 of them (a 57.3% save rate)
  • 2020, 81 shots and 63 saves over 21 games (a 77.8% save rate)

Though the save percentage number should leap off the page, that’s merely a surface shine on number eighteen’s overall progress.

Blake saved the Union more than two full goals over the course of his 2,000+ minutes on the field in the aforementioned “Goals minus expected goals” statistic, fourth in the league for keepers with that much time in net. Compared with his giving away more than ten goals than he should have in 2019 in that same metric, the Union earned twelve goals to the good based solely on Blake’s improvement, or more than a goal every other game.

The Union were good defensively in this metric but almost impossibly great in it offensively, scoring approximately seven more goals in 2020 than they would have been expected to historically and earning a subsequent 11.5 more points than this data suggests they should have.

Sean Johnson, Eloy Room, and Matt Turner all posted better G-xG numbers in 2020, but none of their teams won the Supporter’s Shield nor did any of them come back from their worst season ever to post their best.

Reason 2: A back line to match

Blake saved a lot more of the shots he faced in 2020 than in 2019, that much is known. This might be an apples to apples comparison between the years considering the shots he faced came from almost the exact same spots in both campaigns.

Author’s note: an impossibly large thank you to Eliot McKinley from @AnalysisEvolved and @MassiveReport. I’ve cited his work here countless times before, and he was kind enough to throw this chart together in minutes. A special thank you as well to my friend @O_SilverRey_O too for making the connection.

There is more to this data however than simply where the shots come from and how many are saved.

Though a knack for scoring is more randomized than most fans might believe, two obvious truths exist: shooting from far away is harder than shooting from close range, and “headers are scored at a much lower rate than shots with the foot.”

Blake faced a smaller percentage of shots from opposing player’s feet in 2020 than in any year in his career, and nearly two thirds fewer than in 2019. The Union’s defense forced opponents to settle for a lower quality shot instead of one out of every seven times like in 2019, one out of every four times in 2020!

A ball leaving an attacker’s head is coming at the goal more slowly than a kick and starting much closer to a goalkeeper’s eye level, both defensive advantages the Union forced upon their opponents. Add to that the team’s defense providing an additional four goals to the good in shots blocked and forced wide, and you have a total team effort in defense the likes of which have never been seen in Chester.

It takes a village, as they say.

The taste of crow

“Dr. T. W. Stallings, a former county health superintendent who was the first to promote eating crow…, held “crow banquets” where the secretive main ingredient was masked as quail. He soon managed to turn people into crow-eating aficionados.”

“Stalling’s recipe consisted of rubbing plucked crows with lard to combat their dryness, cooking them in a sealed cast-iron pan along with celery, and finishing them off with lots of gravy. Three crows per person would make a meal.”

This author plans on attempting to make himself a lunch of crow while watching this video on repeat.





One Comment

  1. More than statistics Blake was not sharp last year and for the first time in his career he cost us points as supposed to getting us points.

    The team knew it too. Oka Nikolov got “promoted” Up? Laterally? To assistant coach and they brought in Pat Noonan.

    It worked obviously Blake was fantastic this year and papered over some questionable games this year. He was more responsible than any.other individual player for us getting nthe shield nthis year.

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