Though he's played coy for weeks on his lineup selection for the U.S. Open Cup Final, Philadelphia Union Coach Jim Curtin may have tipped his hand. By starting John McCarthy over Andre Blake in the Union's last two home games, all indications were that he preferred the former to the latter. Blake's start with the perceived second unit on Saturday further solidified that belief. But his ten-save outing in Foxboro has us all wondering more than ever: Who should start in the Open Cup Final?
The case for McCarthy
John McCarthy is one of the few positives to emerge from this franchise's endless pipeline of goalkeeping misery. His Philadelphia soccer roots (Lighthouse SC, FC Delco, North Catholic HS, La Salle) and fan-to-player story were enough to endear himself to supporters, but his heartfelt interview with JP Dellacamera and Peter Pappas is what cemented him as a fan favorite.
On the field, things haven't been as rosy, but that was to be expected. McCarthy was signed as the third-string 'keeper, but when Blake got injured and Rais M'Bolhi sorta just left the country, he was left to pick up the pieces. The Union were winless through five when he made his first start. McCarthy helped the Union take all three points in his debut, but that would be his last win until September 5th. Injuries--both to him and members of his back line--derailed any attempt at forming a steady defensive unit. As a result, McCarthy's goals against average (1.64) is pretty unflattering, but that may be more indicative of the players in front of him rather than the 'keeper himself. By no means has he been perfect, but he's not deserving of a figure so large.
But the league was not where John McCarthy made his name. The former Rochester Rhinos goalkeeper has started in all four of the Union's U.S. Open Cup victories. When the opener against Rochester and the quarterfinal match at Red Bull Arena came down to penalties, McCarthy stopped enough spot kicks to put his team through and earn man of the match titles both times.
His Open Cup heroics, especially in penalty kicks, may be cause to overlook his deficiencies and let him finish what he started by handing him the start on Wednesday.
The case for Blake
If it wasn't clear before Saturday night, it is now: Andre Blake is far and away the Union's best goalkeeper.
Blake was drafted first overall in January of 2014, but a combination of coaching decisions, injuries, national team calls-up, and Rais M'Bolhis has prevented him from earning consistent playing time. Saturday's record-breaking performance was only his third league start of the season.
In those 270 minutes, Blake has proved that he was worthy of the top selection more than a year ago. The sample size may be small, but it is incredibly impressive. In three games, he's faced 20 non-penalty shots and saved 19 of them. John McCarthy, who's faced nearly twice as many shots in MLS play, only has a non-penalty save percentage of 58%.
Though the statistical differences between the two are staggering enough to dispel arguments concerning sample size disparity, this argument goes far beyond that. Andre Blake is fundamentally better than John McCarthy. Among Union goalkeepers, Blake's shot-stopping ability and command of his area are equaled only by Faryd Mondragon. Perhaps more importantly, he's much more disciplined than McCarthy, who's shown a tendency to wander from the 18-yard box on occasion.
John McCarthy is a promising goalkeeper and a wonderful story, but narratives don't win trophies. The Union's best chance to win their first piece of silverware comes with Andre Blake in goal.
We've made our cases, but now it's up to you to decide. Vote in our poll to tell us who should start on Wednesday, and tell us why in the comments.