Just a year and a half ago Andre Blake was thought to be the best talent in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. His college coach from UConn, Ray Reid, called Blake "the LeBron James of goalkeepers." Since then he has been a side story in the Union's goalkeeping circus and completely lost in the shuffle. He started one MLS game in 2014 and a handful of U.S. Open Cup games, and this season he has been set back by a series of unfortunate knee injuries. But those are in the past and it's time to see what kind of talent the Union have in the young keeper. Here are five reasons to start Andre Blake in goal.
The Union face long odds to make the playoffs
The Philadelphia Union now have twelve games remaining in the season, and while they may talk about making a run for the playoffs, the odds are slim. To make the playoffs it appears they'll need about 44 points, twice as many as they currently have. They need to average 1.83 points per game the rest of the way to get to that number. No team in MLS has averaged 1.83 points per game this season. Prior to the loss to D.C. United, American Soccer Analysis listed their odds of making the playoffs at 19%. If they can get hot and make a run that's great, but they shouldn't count on it. They need to look to the future and determine who they want on their roster in 2016. One of those players who should get an audition is Andre Blake.
Sylvestre has been good but not great
The Union's keeper-go-round is well documented. This year they've given starts to Rais M'Bolhi, John McCarthy and Brian Sylvestre. The M'Bolhi and McCarthy experiments were disasters. Both goalkeepers saved just 50% of the shots they faced and had a goals against average of 1.8 per game. Much of that blame can rest with the defense, but neither goalie impressed enough to instill season long confidence. Both were appropriately benched. Their performance and a series of injuries brought in Brian Sylvestre who has been the best of the three, but few would argue there is room for improvement. Sylvestre's save percentage is just 60%, well below league average and his goals against average is a pedestrian 1.54. Again, much of this can and should be placed at the feet of defense, but the Union's long term goalkeeping search should by no means be over.
Curtin's eye for talent questionable
Both John McCarthy and Brian Sylvestre battled it out in the preseason for the backup role. It's arguable that McCarthy was Curtin's guy from the start as Sylvestre was shipped back to the Carolina Railhawks for the start of the season. That choice turned out to be a pretty glaring mistake as Sylvestre has definitely outperformed McCarthy. To judge any goalkeeper you need to give them consistent live action.
Blake is back from the Gold Cup and healthy
In an interview with Brotherly Game, Blake said he is healthy and ready to go. He didn't get the call with the Jamaican National Team, but that is likely due to his recent lack of playing time. Winfried Schafer went with Ryan Thompson, a keeper who gets consistent live action with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. With the pressure of winning now in a tournament, he no doubt went with a player with recent playing experience. The Union don't have that same pressure. They can afford to give Blake the time to adapt and showcase his skills.
No pressure on Curtin to win now
Unless the season spirals out of control, Curtin should feel no pressure to lose his job the rest of the season. He's led another successful run in the U.S. Open Cup and the club's performance has improved as the season has gone along. The front office will point to a series of unfortunate games and injuries that plagued the coach's first full season. Aside from being focused on winning the U.S. Open Cup he should have an eye on next season, and he should see what he has in Blake. He can still start McCarthy in goal for the U.S. Open Cup.
I've been pleasantly surprised by the play of Brian Sylvestre. He's put to rest the weekly stories of the Union's goalkeeping saga, and been solid week in and week out. But if the Union want him next year, they will likely be able to sign him. The next twelve games won't change what the Union staff or fans think of Brian Sylvestre. Meanwhile, the number one pick in last year's SuperDraft is back with the team and ready to go. There really is no reason not to play him.