Not many people expected much out of the Philadelphia Union this year and, granted, it is still too early to conclude one thing or another. But in the opening month of March, there has been one constant that gives hope to what could be a stunning year – Andre Blake.
The Jamaican keeper had himself a fantastic first month as a starter for the Union, securing 16 saves and notching a 5.33 saves-per-goal clip. His 84% save percentage was second only to Brian Rowe of the LA Galaxy.
The only loss that Blake and the Union picked up in March was to the stout FC Dallas, who pelted his goal. Blake was still able to make eight very impressive saves behind a back line that included two rookies, a loanee, and Fabinho, whose defensive error led to a goal.
Even in a loss, Blake still looked rather majestic.
“Soccer is about the moment, and right now I’m having a great moment,” Black said, via MLSsoccer.com.
The only other goal he surrendered in March was in a very impressive away victory at Columbus Crew, the reigning runner-ups. Blake made himself known yet again, making six saves and five claims.
In his home debut, Blake and company shut down a New England Revolution attack that boasts the likes of Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez.
Chalk up a fantastic beginning to Blake’s career. April began with a loss, but it was with ten men and the young keeper is hardly at fault for a very underwhelming day by the union as a whole.
Blake has waited two years to be the starter and it is no surprise that the Union look so much more composed with a solution like Blake in net. Philadelphia has cycled through ten different starting keepers in the past six years. As the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, Blake has always been the solution and now that he has started the party, it looks like it will take a lot to stop the celebrations.
Andre Blake suffered through numerous injuries in his first two years, but now that he is fit, healthy, and the undisputed starter, those injuries are no longer in his mind. “Sometimes I even forget I had surgeries,” he noted.
The Jamaican shot-stopper was up for player of the month in March, but was denied it, finishing in second place to Joao Plata, whose three goals and one assist have powered Real Salt Lake to a promising start.
But even without the award, the similarities between Blake and the last keeper to win player of the month are easy to see. That man was David Ousted of the Vancouver Whitecaps back in June of 2015.
Andre Blake’s got the saves.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 8, 2016
Ousted and Blake shared a 1.00 goals against average in their equally domineering months, but the similarities don’t stop there. Ousted made 20 saves across four games that June, allowing four goals to hit the back of his net. Blake, meanwhile, made 16 saves in three games, allowing three goals. By comparison, that puts Ousted’s month at five saves per game and Blake’s at 5.33. In terms of saves per goal, the numbers are the same.
What we have to remember is that Vancouver’s defense was not put together quite like Philadelphia’s inexperienced defense that Blake has had to live behind. As mentioned, the Union’s back line is composed of two rookies, a second year man and Fabinho, the veteran. Blake doesn’t even have Maurice Edu ahead of his back line, breaking up plays.
Ousted was dealing with a much different defense. It was the best defense in the league, surrendering just 36 goals all year long. But what we can learn from Ousted’s season long stats is that, while he was good, he was not as good as what we have seen from Andre Blake in this small sample size.
Ousted posted a 72.3% save percentage, good for sixth in the league. Those are impressive numbers, but when you look at his goals against, he was right in the middle of the pack. His 2.75 saves per goal was again, good, but more a testament to being a piece of a quality defense that was solid all around.
Andre Blake does not have the benefit of a solid all-around defense. It has the potential to turn into that, as three of the four on the back line are starting their careers in Philly, but as of right now, Blake it the anchor and he is almost single-handedly keeping the Union in games.
Also consider what Blake is doing within the Eastern Conference. Again, it’s still early, but he is tied for the lead in fewest goals given up. He leads in saves and save percentage while sitting third in shots faced.
With Andre Blake at the back, the Union may indeed have the season that no one expected.