Perhaps the most significant aspect of Andre Blake winning Major League Soccer's Goalkeeper of the Year award is that it includes recognition from Blake's fellow players.
Blake won a plurality of player votes, just over 30 percent. That was double the second-place vote getter among players, Colorado Rapids and U.S. national team stalwart Tim Howard.
"It's an amazing feeling to know that my hard work has been noticed," Blake said on a conference call with reporters Friday morning. "It's something I hope to continue to build on.
The 25-year-old spoke from his native Jamaica, where he's enjoying some well-deserved time off after a long year for club and country.
Blake now has three professional seasons under his belt, and 23 appearances for his national team. The first came while he was still in college at Connecticut; the most recent came on Nov. 11, when he helped the Reggae Boyz shut out Suriname 1-0 in a qualification match for next summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
That tournament will have particular importance for Blake and his team because Jamaica is out of World Cup qualifying. And of course, memories are still fresh of the Reggae Boyz' underdog run to the 2015 final, including a semifinal upset of the United States.
"The Gold Cup is going to be something big for us," Blake said. "Hopefully we can make a good run again and go all the way this time around."
In addition to offering continental bragging rights, the Gold Cup will be another shop window for Blake to showcase himself to international suitors. It won't be as big a stage as the Copa América Centenario, but global scouts are smart enough to know that any tournament of national teams is worth watching.
"Right now, I'm still a Philadelphia Union player, so that's the focus," Blake said. "If something should come later, then that's something to think about. But right now, I'm still a Philadelphia Union player, which means I'm still 100 percent dedicated to them. From this standpoint, as of right now, I'll just continue to do my best for the Philadelphia Union, until the future."
That is probably as declarative an answer as fans will get.
For however long Blake stays with the Union, he will be a key part of the team's emphasis on developing young players. That group includes three other rookies: right back Keegan Rosenberry, who played every minute of every regular season game; centerback Josh Yaro, Rosenberry's teammate at Georgetown; and winger/forward Fabian Herbers. They were joined this year by two signings from the Union's youth academy, midfielder Derrick Jones and centerback Auston Trusty.
Union manager Jim Curtin has said time and again that he wants to be known as a coach who plays young players. Sporting director Earnie Stewart has said he wants to develop them.
The process takes time - and yes, they've told fans to trust it. But it is happening, and Blake sees it.
"We have shown this year that we have players that can make a play, and I think this year was just learning experience for us," he said. "If we keep working together, keep working hard, keep buying into the system, I think this is just the start of something great to come."
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