Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Andre Blake shines despite Jamaica's loss in Copa América Centenario opener

CHICAGO - Jamaica entered the Copa América Centenario as the clear underdog in a group with Venezuela and powerhouses Mexico and Uruguay. If the Reggae Boyz were to upset the odds, it was going to take huge performances from lots of their players - especially Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Blake delivered on Sunday, but the rest of his team did not. Venezuela capitalized on an early Jamaican defensive mishap to snatch a 1-0 win at sun-drenched Soldier Field.

"I was very much disappointed that we did not even get a point at the end of the day," Blake said afterward. "We were unlucky."

In the 15th minute, Michael Hector poorly cleared a ball about 30 yards off Blake's line. After a few slick passes, Venezuela's Josef Martínez was sprung, and shot the ball through Blake's hard-charging legs.

Blake was left at a further disadvantage just under 10 minutes later, when key Jamaican midfielder Rodolph Austin was sent off for a clumsy tackle. It may not have been intentional, but the harm was clear:

Despite the disadvantage, the Reggae Boyz had chances to equalize. And while they never finished those chances, they were able to stay in the game thanks in no small part to a command performance from Blake. The highlight was a sensational diving save of a header from Venezuela's Wilker Ángel in the 70th minute:

"It was a very tough save, a lot of power and he headed it down," Blake said. "Following the corner kick, I just followed the ball right across, and luckily I was in a good position and then my reaction and my reflexes did the job."

Union fans have seen Blake deliver those kinds of heroics before. On a stage this big, it was the kind of play that surely will only increase the odds that overseas suitors start offering the Union big money to pry Blake away.

"If I'm good enough, then in due time then the world will see how good I am," he said. "For me, this is just another tournament - a very big tournament to be a part of - and all I want to do is just do my best and help my country to be successful."

I asked Jamaican forward Giles Barnes, who plays his club soccer for Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo, for his perspective on Blake's rapid rise.

"Blake is a top-class keeper, a young keeper as well," Barnes said. "He's grown so much more since I've known him. Vocally, he's coming out and taking crosses, his kicking has improved... If he keeps on going at this rate, the world's his oyster."

The spotlight on Blake will only grow bigger as Jamaica heads to the Rose Bowl on Thursday to play Mexico (10:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and Univision). It will be a rematch of last year's Gold Cup final in Philadelphia, which Mexico won 3-1. Blake admitted that the Reggae Boyz will be out for a bit of revenge.

After that comes the potent strike force of Uruguay's Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani on June 13 in Santa Clara.

"We all know now what we have to do," Blake said. "They're tougher opponents, but I think we play better when we play tougher opponents. So we'll be ready."

In addition to being without Austin, Jamaica will be without head coach Winfried Schaefer. He was expelled from the field at halftime - for reasons that still aren't entirely clear - and watched the second half in a suite.

When I asked Blake what happened to Schaefer, Blake couldn't help laughing.

"I don't know," he said. "I didn't even realize he wasn't on the bench until the latter part of the game."

Given how focused Blake was on the action, he's excused. But he didn't avoid addressing the importance of the defeat.

Was it a must-win? When I asked Blake, he did his best to say it wasn't. But the truth was clear.

"Maybe yes, but right now we're going to think that right now we can still make it out of this group," he said. "We've just got to go in and take care of business."