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Matt Freese’s ‘maturity, character’ key during Andre Blake absence

Despite the recent passing of his father, Freese is ready for Red Bulls clash

Shivant Krishnan

Thursday’s match against the New York Red Bulls will be the first for the Philadelphia Union without the players selected for the upcoming Gold Cup.

Alvas Powell and Cory Burke will both be in Orlando ahead of Jamaica’s opener with Suriname, but it is the Reggae Boyz’ presumed No. 1 — Andre Blake — that will be the most important piece to replace.

In Wednesday’s press conference with the media, head coach Jim Curtin appeared to give the nod to Matt Freese over Joe Bendik.

“[Freese] will be called upon to play big minutes for us now with Andre’s absence,” Curtin said. “Him and Joe Bendik will have a job to do, obviously when you miss the best goalkeeper in the league that’s probably the biggest area [Philadelphia will need reinforcements with].”

However, this hasn’t been an ordinary summer for Freese. The 22-year-old Wayne, Pennsylvania native lost his father, neurosurgeon Dr. Andrew Freese, on June 30. It has undoubtedly been a tough week for Freese, who will now be tasked with minding the net against one of his club’s most bitter rivals.

“With all these athletes, there are things on and off the field that are affecting them every day. There’s mental health, there’s lost loved ones; it’s really the hard part of the game. Often times, we just expect them to come to work and be fine at all times,” Curtin noted.

Curtin said that Freese declined any time away from the team, and has shown professionalism beyond his tender years this past week.

“Matt’s going through a tough moment. We’re here for him as a family as best we can be. I have to say, for his age, his maturity that he’s dealt with the passing of his father has been incredible,” Curtin said.

“Matt wants to be here with the group, he wants to help the team. That speaks to the character he has, and the family he has.”

Curtin applauded Freese’s determination during the past week.

“Distraction isn‘t the right word to use, but [soccer] is something to keep his mind on something he knows and keep his mind off the loss of a loved one. I’m sure, in the back of his mind, he wants to make his father proud in a certain type of way as well.”

Thursday’s game won’t be a distraction for Freese, but the young shot-stopper has the chance to impress in a big stage.

“Certainly, it’s a big opportunity for Matthew, and this is why these guys want to be professionals,” Curtin said.

Freese and the Union will kick off at Red Bull Arena at 8 p.m., with the match set to be be broadcast live on PHL17, streamed in-market on PhiladelphiaUnion.com and streamed out of market on ESPN+.