Recognizing the adjustments while he waits his turn is next goal for Union rookie Andre Blake
Andre Blake was certain of one thing the day of the MLS SuperDraft – he would be selected.
To be picked with the No. 1 overall pick?
Well, that was a pleasant surprise.
The Philadelphia Union took the former University of Connecticut goalkeeper No. 1 overall.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect,” Blake said. “I woke up at 9:30 and had breakfast and was a little anxious, but then I’m like, ‘Just relax.’ You don’t know what to expect. As soon as I got into the center and I saw what it was like, I was like, Whoa, this is crazy.’ This is like a lifetime experience, something I always dreamed of, and hearing your name being called number one just tops it off.”
Blake was informed that he was the first goalkeeper in the history of the SuperDraft to be taken with the No. 1 overall pick.
Does pressure come along with that knowledge?
“You can take that as pressure, but then you’ve got to like that because it creates history which everyone could do,” Blake said. “You can’t take it as too much pressure but you’ve got to take it as a little bit of pressure. The reason being if you take it as too much pressure, then it might affect your performance. I’m going to take it as a little bit of pressure, but I know what I am capable of doing so I’m just going to go out there and work hard and show them that they made a good choice.”
"He wants it. He's phenomenal."
Blake recorded 10 shutouts with a 0.75 goals against average to win the American Athletic Conference Goalkeeper of the Year Award.
Blake had 36 career shutouts in three seasons with the Huskies.
“He can do stuff now that nobody in our league can do,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “I would just tell you that he’s got a ways to go … He has got to come in here and really learn but he’s the type of person and it’s a great opportunity and chance for him. He wants it. He’s phenomenal. He’s already a Jamaican international. You’re talking about a college player that already has international experience. His upside is tremendous. We feel like him working with Robbie (Technical Director Rob Vartughian) and competition between he and Zac (MacMath) is going to be great in all ways.”
Blake has been learning every single day since he joined the Union.
He has longed for this experience since he was a little kid.
“I always dreamed big and always told myself I wanted to be a professional player,” Blake said. “I want to use the gift that I have to better my life, to better my family. It’s great right now to see that.”
Blake has witnessed the Sons of Ben and the rest of the passionate fan base in the Union’s 1-0 home-opening win over the New England Revolution at PPL Park.
“It was a great feeling,” Blake said of being drafted No. 1. “It made me feel so comfortable knowing I am going to be playing in front of fans that are very welcoming and very supportive.”
Blake’s teammates have been extremely supportive and they’re excited to have him on the club.
“Andre comes in and works so hard and you can just tell he’s a total team guy who wants to get better,” said forward Jack McInerney. “He does his work, listens to the coaches and goes about his business. You can see that he’s very mature. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
“We have a great locker room and he fits in perfectly with the group,” added defender Sheanon Williams. “He’s a hard worker and he wants to learn all he can. You can see that. I feel that we’re lucky to have him join the club. He’s a perfect addition in terms of the type of character and talent we have in this locker room.”
Blake had a stellar career on the pitch at Connecticut.
It was his attitude and work ethic which immediately won over the coaching staff.
“I think it was his second day here and he was this quiet kid,” recalled Connecticut coach Ray Reid. “We go into a team meeting and guys are fairly quiet. I’m asking around, looking for ideas of what the guys wanted to accomplish and where we were going. It’s circle time and we all gather around. So Andre stands up and says, ‘I want to win.’ Then he sits down and smiles. That was it. But that’s Andre. As it turned out, that’s all I needed to hear. I saw the rest on the field and in his preparation.
“I couldn’t have said it any better as a coach. Andre went ahead and did it and was a great player for us. What a great person, too. The Union are very lucky to have him. I miss him. He’ll do great things in MLS.”
Recognizing the adjustments
What makes Blake such a quiet constant?
“I’ve just been coming in and doing my work,” Blake said. “It’s a great group of guys here. They’ve all been very welcoming to me. I think for me, it’s just about putting in the time and waiting for an opportunity. I’m thrilled the Union took me in the draft. I can already see what a great soccer area this is. The fans are incredible. They give us a true home advantage. It makes you want to train harder and play harder when you see how passionate the fans are and how they pull for us.”
But the MLS season is a marathon and Blake is fully aware of that aspect. He’s pacing himself.
“Being in MLS is a bit different than college just by the length of the season,” Blake said. “It’s a mental challenge. I’m up for it. I’m excited. I’m going to work with the mindset of getting better that day. I’m going to take each challenge as it comes. Like I said, I’m honored to be here and helping this club.”
Reid said that Blake will help the Union in a variety of ways.
“He’s competitive, intense, smart, articulate – the whole package,” Reid said. “He’s got great instincts, a great work ethic, passion – everything you could ask for in a player. He’s going to be fine. Just a great, great player and person. I can’t say enough good things about Andre.”
Though Blake understands he is the only goalkeeper ever taken No. 1 overall in the SuperDraft, that fact is now in the rear view mirror.
What matters now is what transpires moving forward.
“It’s work, work, work and improving,” Blake said. “I love to play soccer and I’m a lucky person to be able to do this for a living. My whole attitude is just to improve and be a team guy. I’m with the Union and I want this club to have as much success as possible.”
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Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at email@example.com