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Union goalie Andre Blake getting chance at fresh start

Blake, the No. 1 pick in last year’s MLS SuperDraft, will get just his third MLS start against New England on Saturday.

Jamaica national and Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake during warm ups at the Gold Cup Final in Philadelphia on July 26, 2015.
Jamaica national and Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake during warm ups at the Gold Cup Final in Philadelphia on July 26, 2015.Read more(Colin Kerrigan/

THE OPPORTUNITY for Andre Blake is finally here.

What the young goalkeeper of the Philadelphia Union does with it to jump-start his stalled career is on him.

Last Saturday, Blake, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 SuperDraft, made just his second MLS start for the Union against Montreal.

Blake made several fine saves and logged a clean sheet in the 1-0 victory.

On Saturday at PPL Park, Blake will start against the New England Revolution.

It has been an odd journey for Blake - one filled with injury, curious decisions by management and frustrating time on the bench.

"It's just the Andre Blake story," said the international from Jamaica who starred at the University of Connecticut. "Sometimes you gotta go through tough times to build character.

"I just think that's how it is for me and hopefully something great is coming down the line."

It is hard to describe Blake's brief career with the Union. Only two starts in nearly two seasons was not anticipated for the player who was dubbed as "most MLS ready" coming into the 2014 draft.

Despite having a young in-house goalie in Zac MacMath, the Union traded up from the second spot in the SuperDraft to take Blake at No. 1.

MacMath, who many thought would be traded, retained his starting spot.

Then on July 30, 2014, the Union made the strange and ultimately disastrous decision to sign Algerian keeper Rais Mbohli and gave him the starting job.

The Union not only had three goalies of the future but had well over $400,000 committed to that position, an insane use of the salary-cap space.

Blake, who played in a couple of early U.S. Open Cup matches last year, made his only MLS start in a 2-0 loss at Houston.

Things looked clearer coming into 2015.

MacMath was loaned to the Colorado Rapids.

Although Mbohli opened as the starter, he fell out of favor early and a prolonged dispute got him banished until a mutual termination of his contract happened on Monday.

Almost by default, the starting job had come to Blake. But a knee injury in February had him on the shelf and then another in April put him out again.

Blake watched as John McCarthy, a graduate of La Salle who made the team as a free agent, and Brian Sylvestre, originally acquired on a short-term loan from the Carolina Railhawks of the North American Soccer League, minded the Union net.

Even after Blake returned to training in July, he was not deemed game-ready until Montreal.

"Was there a risk of going to [Blake], yes, I think there was," Union manager Jim Curtin said, "but I think every young player needs to feel the coaching staff has a belief in him.

"I watched him in training and he did very well. He's a former No. 1 pick who rose to the occasion in a big spot. It's just one game so we won't get ahead of ourselves, but for a first step he gets an 'A' for sure. Now we look to build on it."

The Union (7-13-6) needs the three points that come from wins to have a remote chance to qualify for the MLS playoffs. It plays Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 30 for U.S. Open Cup title.

As in hockey, a hot goalie at the right time can do wonders to improve a team's outlook.

This is Blake's moment.

After the New England match, Blake, 24, will be released to Jamaica for CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualification matches against Nicaragua on Sept. 4 and 8.

"Hopefully with good performances here, that spurs [Blake] to get the starts for Jamaica," said Curtin, who noted that Blake is still in the infancy of his career because quality goalies can play into their 40s. "That would give him games there that we can evaluate and then make decisions on.

"The best way for goalkeepers to be judged is in games under real action."

Blake needs to play well on Saturday, play well for Jamaica, and convince Curtin that his time truly is now.

Nothing against McCarthy or Sylvestre, but if Blake doesn't earn the starting job by the Open Cup final on Sept. 30, you have to wonder if he is just the latest in an extensive list of first-round draft flops for the Union.

"It's been a long season," Blake said. "A lot has been going on. It's been tough for me, but I just knew that at some point I would get an opportunity. I just had to make sure that whenever the time came, I was ready to take it.

"Nothing happens before its time, that's what I think. When I go out and play, I don't go out to prove anything. I just go out to do whatever I can to help my time.

"When the time is right, I know I will make the right steps and everything will fall into place."

Now is the right time. Blake needs to put everything in place for himself and the future of the Union.