The Philadelphia Union play a soccer game tonight. Three thousand miles away, two Union players play in a far bigger game as Chris Pontius and the U.S. national team face Andre Blake and Jamaica in the Gold Cup final.
Pontius likely won’t see time in the battle for CONCACAF supremacy but his contributions throughout the tournament were a cool thing for someone who had been out of the USMNT picture for many years. So was the play of Union captain Alejandro Bedoya before he left to be home for the birth of his daughter.
But no one is having a moment like Blake.
Over the past few weeks, Blake has carried Jamaica on his back and showed a wider audience exactly what Union fans have known for years.
If you haven’t seen some of his crazy good moments throughout the tourney, here’s one:
And here’s another, from Jamaica’s stunning semifinal upset of CONCACAF power Mexico on Sunday:
When asked about watching Blake this week, Union head coach Jim Curtin offered high praise, even though a small part of him would prefer he’d have been in net for the Union during their last three games — two losses and a draw.
“He was [MLS] Goalkeeper of the Year last year and I think he’s having a better season this year with the seven shutouts he has for us, with the shutouts the Gold Cup,” Curtin said. “His leadership too. Andre’s a quiet kid. He’s always been kind of reserved and shy, but to see now after the game when he’s wearing the captain’s armband and calling that whole group in after you beat Mexico, basically in a road game at the Rose Bowl, to call that whole group in and you could see he was the one doing a lot of the talking in the group, that’s impressive.”
As Curtin notes, it’s one thing to make incredibly athletic saves, as Blake has consistently done since coming to this country to play collegiately at UConn, from where he was plucked by the Union as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. It’s quite another to do so while leading a soccer nation to the kind of heights it rarely sees.
Not exaggerating to say that a player of that class in an influential position like that can transform a country's fortunes for a generation https://t.co/c8VLiJ0okW— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) July 21, 2017
So what now for Blake? Even if Jamaica loses to the U.S. in tonight’s final (which you can watch at 9:30 on FS1, right after the Union-Crew game ends), Blake’s stock has skyrocketed this summer. And if he has another monster game and Jamaica pulls the huge upset over the Americans? It’s hard to imagine any other goalkeepers at that level.
Curtin essentially said as much, pointing out that when it comes to world-class athletes at a position like goalkeeper, “there’s only so talented you can be, and I don’t see much better than Andre.” Which means it’s not a stretch to think he could go from the Union to a Real Madrid or a Manchester United or any of the other top clubs in the world.
“He should be a goalkeeper I believe teams in Europe are calling for,” Curtin said. “He’s that talented.”
But are they calling? Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said they weren’t earlier in this year and Curtin reiterated that claim this week. That means that either the Gold Cup isn’t boosting his stock across the pond as much as we’d like to think (which does make sense in a way; it’s not a huge tournament) or perhaps teams are waiting it out until the 26-year-old gets more game experience and more freedom to leave MLS.
For what it’s worth, both Blake and the Union can afford to be picky. The Union are a better team with Blake in goal but a lucrative sale could lead to a true difference-maker in the attack, which the team has sorely been lacking (and John McCarthy has shown this week to be more than capable as a starting goalkeeper). And Blake shouldn’t have to settle for a second-tier team or second-tier league in Europe; he’s on the record as saying he’d love to play for Manchester United and, given his talent and now-stable situation in Philly, doesn’t necessarily need to set his sights much lower than that.
“I think he will play in Europe,” Curtin said. “But it’s one thing to play in Europe; it’s another thing to play in Europe for a top club. I think he has the ability to play at a top club in Europe, for sure.”
In the meantime, Union fans should enjoy every minute they have watching Blake — because there’s no telling when it might end.