Halftime Sports

Andre Blake can’t stop saving

September 23, 2017

It’s the 77th minute and the New York Red Bulls can sense a breakthrough. They’ve been dominating the Philadelphia Union all game but haven’t been able to find the back of the net. Now, Sacha Kljestan prepares to swing a dangerous free kick into the box, hoping to finally get the goal the Red Bulls deserve.

Kljestan strikes the ball well, and what initially looks like a cross is deceptively headed towards the goal. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake dives and parries Kljestan’s ball away, only for it to land at the feet of Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, reigning MLS Golden Boot winner. Wright-Phillips is a mere five yards from goal with no defenders to beat; there’s no way he can’t score. And then magic happens.

Blake is still recovering from his initial parry as Wright-Phillips take his shot from point-blank range. With no time to react, Blake, falling, jabs his leg to the right, stopping the shot in its tracks and allowing a defender to clear. The Red Bulls are in disbelief as their golden opportunity is thwarted. Blake finishes with eight saves, and the game ends at 0-0.

Moments like these are commonplace for Blake, who has been bailing out a leaky Union defense all season. Ever since making his first start for the team in August 2015, Blake has been its star, outshining the likes of former Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta and the USMNT’s own Alejandro Bedoya.

Drafted first overall out of UConn on a Generation Adidas contract in 2014, Blake entered a quagmire of Union goalies that included Algerian international Rais M’Bolhi and Zac MacMath. Relegated to the bench early on, Blake was finally given his chance after a string of poor performances by M’Bolhi. He seized that chance and didn’t let go, becoming a Union fan favorite almost immediately.

In the 2016 MLS season, Blake proved his goalkeeping prowess to the entire league. The Jamaican’s ridiculous reaction saves became staples of the MLS Save of the Week finalists, and the goalkeeper’s consistent performances earned him a trip to the All-Star Game in his first full season.

Even as the Union struggled in the second half of the season, Blake continued to make amazing save after amazing save. He carried the Union into the playoffs and was named Goalkeeper of the Year.

Last summer at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Blake made his name known to an even larger audience. As Jamaica’s captain, Blake helped his team to a 0-0 draw against Mexico in the group stage and into the knockout rounds. In the quarterfinals against Canada, Blake survived an onslaught of Canadian attacks (and made this save against Junior Hoilett) to win man of the match, as the Reggae Boyz held on for a 2-1 victory.

Blake’s performance in a semifinal rematch against Mexico was even more impressive. The goalkeeper denied all seven of Mexico’s on-target shots and made this incredible double save in the 12th minute. Kemar Larwence’s 88th minute free kick may have sent Jamaica to the final with a 1-0 win over El Tri, but it was Blake’s second straight man of the match performance that garnered all the headlines. Who knows if the USMNT’s 2-1 win over Jamaica in the final would’ve happened had Blake, who received the Gold Cup’s Golden Glove award, not had to leave the game early on with an injury?

The wider soccer world has started to notice all of Blake’s stellar performances. Premier League clubs Brighton and Crystal Palace reportedly made multi-million dollar offers to buy Blake from the Union over the summer. It was only Jamaica’s low FIFA ranking that rendered Blake ineligible for a UK work permit and ultimately prevented a transfer.

For Blake, a move to the Premier League would be well deserved. The Union goalkeeper has outgrown MLS and should get the opportunity to play with defenders as skilled as he is. Even if a PL move doesn’t materialize, a transfer to a some other high-quality league is likely in the cards, as Union sporting director Earnie Stewart has said that he would be open to offers.

So don’t be surprised if you soon see Blake making headlines in Europe. The Jamaican is only 26 and has a long career ahead of him. Whether he’s in the Premier League, the Bundesliga, or Serie A, one thing’s for sure. Andre Blake can stop a shot.

Jon Block
Jon was podcast editor, Halftime leisure editor, and Halftime sports editor for the Voice. You can follow him on Twitter @jon_block_ but not on Instagram because he doesn't have one.

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