Andre Blake isn’t the Union’s biggest star anymore, but he’s as good a goalkeeper as ever
In his fifth season as a pro, the Jamaican has career highs in saves, shutouts and pass completion percentage.
Not all that long ago, Andre Blake was the Union's biggest star.
This was in part because he was really good, of course. The Jamaican delivered on the promise of being the No. 1 draft pick in 2014 by winning MLS' Goalkeeper of the Year award two years later.
It was also in part because sometimes, his teammates weren't worthy of the spotlight.
Now the Union have those players, in Alejandro Bedoya, Borek Dockal, and a few others. And young centerbacks Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie have earned spotlights of their own, justifying the hype around them as potential future U.S. national team players.
But Blake hasn't gotten any worse. In fact, he's probably gotten better, with career highs of 113 saves and 10 shutouts this season.
Long known as a great shot-stopper, he has worked this year on improving his distribution. In modern soccer, goalkeepers' feet and brains matter as much as their hands, especially to teams such as the Union, which try to pass the ball out of the back.
"The game has changed," he said. "I have to spend a lot more time now trying to get better with my feet. The more time I spend, I think the team is only getting better,"
He has indeed gotten better: His pass completion rate of 61.9 percent this season is another career high.
Blake is also working on dealing with one of the Union's most important flaws: a susceptibility to being hit on counterattacks. It's how the Montreal Impact thumped them in September, and it's how the Houston Dynamo beat them in the U.S. Open Cup final.
When the Union's 10 outfield players take their possession game high up the field, Blake doesn't just become the last line of defense. Sometimes he's the only line of defense.
"As the goalkeeper, now there's a lot more space for you to cover," he said. "Now it comes down to you having to make decisions quickly: Do you go, do you stay? … In the moment, it can be very tough decisions, but the more you do it week-in, week-out, it starts to become more instinctive."
Blake must also be ready for the mistakes that Trusty and McKenzie will inevitably make as a 20- and 19-year-old, respectively. And he is.
"Sometimes, people do forget how young these guys are," Blake said. "It's making me better, and I'm growing in a different aspect of the game, as well as they're growing."
His success is made all the more impressive by this context: He's had five goalkeeper coaches in his five seasons here. Each brought his own style and training methods, and Blake tried to learn from each one.
"If I tell you it's not hard, I'd be lying," he said. "If I do it the right way, it can only make me into a more complete goalkeeper."
He is as close now to getting there as he has ever been.