When Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake denied New York City FC’s Keaton Parks in the box just over seven minutes into the contest, it was the Jamaican international’s first stop in 123 days. While the pandemic and at home workouts allowed players to maintain their fitness, it’s hard to replicate stopping shots when you’re alone. Despite the long gap, that stop from Blake was the first of seven that proved crucial in the Union’s shut out victory over NYCFC in the MLS is Back Tournament opener.
“It was really tough and it was about doing as much as you can when you could and trying to find ways to stay sharp mentally,” Blake said Sunday afternoon as he spoke with the media from Orlando. “We had to do as much as we could within the time we had to try and get that sharpness back so it’s still a work in progress but it’s been good.”
That progress was on full display late in the second half of the match was Blake was called upon to make three saves inside the six-yard-box to preserve the three points for the Boys in Blue. That confidence not only continues to grow for the goalkeeper but for the rest of the team knowing they having a former Goalkeeper of the Year behind them.
“He’s a great leader in our locker room and with the performance against New York City FC, it makes us feel very comfortable especially with this being a knock out tournament,” Head Coach Jim Curtin said. “As the game went on and we got fatigued with NYC coming on as we knew they would down 1-0, you need your goalkeeper to make some big saves and Andre made some big, critical saves for us. It’s great to know what we have and it allows our backline and midfield to be aggressive because we know that even if we make a mistake, he’s there to bail us out.”
Making big saves isn’t uncommon as Union fans know. During Blake’s 127 career starts for the squad, he’s made at least five saves in 28 different matches. With a clean sheet against one of Eastern Conference powers, Blake is just focused on the next match. With Inter Miami CF on deck Tuesday night, Blake’s job doesn’t get any easier with the likes of Juan Agudelo, Rodolfo Pizarro leading the MLS newcomer’s attack.
“It’s always good for me to be able to do my job effectively and help the team win,” Blake said. “It’s important now to keep going and build off the last performance and not just individually but as a team.”
Philadelphia Union continues its participation in the MLS is Back Tournament on Tuesday, July 14. Kick off is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. ET on TUDN and will be streamed on Twitter. Following the match, fans can catch a special postgame show presented by Premier Orthopaedics on the Union’s social channel and on PhiladelphiaUnion.com.