Bittersweet start for Blake
Gordon Williams, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Andre Blake's long-anticipated Major League Soccer (MLS) debut brought bitter-sweet returns, as a promising performance by the Jamaica international was marred by his club's defeat.
Blake, the top pick in January's MLS SuperDraft and touted as the Reggae Boyz' future number one goalkeeper, was benched by the Philadelphia Union for the opening 23 matches in North America's 2014 premier league season. Last Friday, he started against the Houston Dynamo and the 23-year-old from May Pen didn't disappoint.
"I think it was a pretty good performance," Blake said after the game. "I did what I had to do."
He earned positive reviews, despite the 2-0 loss, shutting out Houston in the first half and producing top efforts in the second - one to stop Will Bruin's point-blank header and later thwarting the striker on a breakaway.
"The kid's been living on the edge, but he's made the right decision every time," a United States television commentator said of Blake.
Blake was confirmed the starter last Thursday, unseating regular first choice Zac MacMath. He said he wasn't overawed by the coach's decision or the occasion and drew on experiences, including Jamaica's late May matches against Serbia and Switzerland, for confidence.
"I did feel a little nervous before the game," said Blake, who represented Philadelphia in two US Open Cup knockout games and a recent friendly against English club Crystal Palace.
"But as soon as I got into the game all the butterflies went ... . I've played in front of big crowds and big teams before. I just approached it as any other game."
Bruin gave the Dynamo the lead in the 51st minute after Blake moved to cover his near post and couldn't stop Giles Barnes's cross inside the penalty box. The 'keeper was wrong-footed on Houston's second - an own goal in the 90th by Raymon Gaddis. The rookie, credited with seven saves, couldn't prevent either goal, but took responsibility anyway.
"No matter how it's scored, every time a goal goes in I take the blame," he said, "because that's how I get better."
Blake is contesting Philadelphia's first-string job with MacMath and the recently signed Algerian international Rais Mbolhi. He prefers to allow performances to stake his claim.
"I can't control that," Blake said of the competition. "So all I have to do is keep working hard, and when I get the chance I just go out and show what I can do."
August 15's bright display, however, doesn't guarantee a start in Philadelphia's next MLS match against San Jose Earthquakes on August 24.
"I can't say if (the starting job) is temporary or permanent," Blake admitted. "... It's up to the coaching staff."
Philadelphia, in a heated battle for a play-off spot, have 10 games remaining in the MLS regular season, plus the September 16 final of the Open Cup. Blake is primed if needed.
"I'll be ready whenever my number is called," he said.