Since Andre Blake became the Union’s starting goalkeeper four years ago, the team has rarely ever had issues in net.
Local sports fans traumatized by the Flyers’ decades-long revolving door of goalies before Carter Hart — and the Union’s obsession with the position in the Nick Sakiewicz era — have had next to nothing to worry about in the Blake era. The 28-year-old Jamaican has not only been a steady hand, but he also has bailed out the Union more times than anyone can count.
So it was really shocking to see Blake give up three bad goals in the first half of the Union’s first home playoff game in eight years.
In just the sixth minute, Josh Sims hit a straight-on shot that Blake got a piece of, but didn’t stop.
In the 24th, Blake jumped for a corner kick, missed it entirely, then watched Tim Parker jump on the loose ball with a diving header that turned into soccer’s version of a seeing-eye grounder.
Lastly, in the final seconds of first-half stoppage time, Blake got stranded in the air again. He went up to punch out a free kick and collided with Mark McKenzie, and the loose ball fell right onto the foot of a wide-open Tom Barlow. Instead of going into the locker room down just 2-1, Blake walked off the field down by 3-1.
But the Union’s heads were not down. There were some strong words exchanged in the locker room, including from captain Alejandro Bedoya. Some of them went toward backing their goalkeeper.
“He knows himself. He’s been a pro for a long time,” Bedoya said after the game. "Right before we came out [of the locker room], I just tapped him on the back and said, ‘We’re going to get this for you and just keep your head up.' "
Blake took the message to heart.
“It means the world,” he said. “In times like these, you need to be able to look at your teammates and see that they’re going to be like, ‘Hey, we’re there for each other.’ ”
With Blake’s head up and a renewed fire across the team, the Union came flying out of the gates in the second half. Jack Elliott cut New York’s lead to 3-2 seven minutes into the frame, and from there, the Union went on to make history.
“There’s a thousand times that I was able to bail them out,” Blake said. “It’s a team sport, and when someone is not having their best day, you know, you have to have a brother’s shoulder to lean on. And that’s what we did tonight. We were able to fight for each other.”
Meanwhile, Blake looked like his old self again. Though he had to make only one official save after halftime, he handled every loose ball that came his way and completed all but one of his pass attempts that weren’t long balls.
“The wind was very strong, it was wet, they had traffic in front of me, so it was tough,” he said. “But I stuck to the task, and I knew that I just had to keep going, keep playing and keep believing in my team, and to know that it’s never too late to turn things around.”
Blake won’t have to worry about the elements Thursday when the Union face Atlanta United in the conference semifinals (8 p.m., ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes), as he’ll be under the closed roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He’ll have to worry only about facing the reigning MLS champions, whose star striker Josef Martínez has scored 67 goals over the last two years.
Most important, though, might be someone Blake won’t be worrying about: himself.
“Errors happen all over the field, and the thing about soccer is everybody makes a mistake in the course of the 90 minutes,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “They always get magnified more at the goalkeeper position. So the players, we stressed to them to have his back and pick him up now, when he needs it, just like he’s picked us up so much in the past."