It’s been a little over eight years since the Philadelphia Union selected UConn All-American Andre Blake as the first pick in the MLS SuperDraft. In most American sports, the weight of being the top pick carries extra weight and responsibility: the face of the franchise, the worst-to-first engine, the wind blowing in a new direction.
Few MLS top draft picks have lived up to the hype. For every Maurice Edu and Steve Zakuani there have been five Chris Carrieris and Danny Mwangas.
Andre Blake has more than fulfilled the role of savior. The three-time MLS All-Star and two-time Goalkeeper of the Year arguably had the best season of his career, narrowly missing out on his third GOTY award despite leading the league in many major goalkeeping statistics.
Blake appeared in 34 games in all competitions, logging over 2,300 minutes in the MLS regular season as well as every second of the MLS playoffs and Concacaf Champions League, all while missing time to play in the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers with Jamaica. His 12 clean sheets were one short of the league lead despite playing fewer games, but he added three more in the Champions League and one in the playoffs for 16 on the season.
Playing behind a stout defense that rarely made mistakes, Blake’s importance to the team could at times be overlooked by the national eyes, but when called upon in rare moments with the game on the line, Blake came up big numerous times. Though his 76% save percentage was a point lower than his 2020 season, he led the league in expected goals minus goals allowed, a stat that defined his ability to stand tall when he should have been beaten.
In the Champions League quarterfinals against Atlanta United, Blake rescued the Union from a disastrous opening half onslaught and went on to make 7 saves in the first leg victory. In the 2021 MLS playoffs, he took center stage again with several game-saving stops against the New York Red Bulls before a heroic penalty shootout performance against Nashville SC in which he stopped the first two penalties and forced the next two over the bar with nothing more than sheer intimidation.
In 8 penalties against Blake in the 2021 season, including playoffs, only 1 beat him. Named as the club’s 2021 Player of the Year, Blake was named an All-Star in this summer’s competition against Liga Mx following an odd snub, then later signed a contract extension that keeps him with the club until 2024 with an option in 2025.
Blake was a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year and narrowly missed his third Best XI honor, but what should excite Union fans the most is that he’s getting better every year. An excellent shot-stopper known for his angle awareness and balance, Blake also showed his athleticism with several acrobatic saves. His presence in the box has improved, and he’s become an excellent distributor of the ball, capable of springing a Union counter at any moment.
At the international level, Blake led Jamaica to the Gold Cup semifinal last July where they lost to the U.S. 1-0. Jamaica currently sits sixth in the Concacaf Octagonal and will attempt to qualify for the World Cup for the first since 1998, the country’s only appearance in the competition.
Blake now wears the armband for the Reggae Boyz, who will have a busy winter as the stack of qualifiers coincides with the opening of the 2022 MLS season. Capped 56 times for Jamaica, Blake continues to be one of the best players in the region and should have another exceptional year for both club and country.
MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Finalist
MLS Team of the Week: Week 6, Week 29
Philadelphia Union Season MVP
FotMob Man of the Match: October 3 vs Columbus; May 24 vs DC United and April 18 vs Columbus
10-time BrotherlyGame Community Player of the Game
Read our other 2021 Season Player Reviews at brotherlygame.com/player-reviews.