CHESTER, Pa. -- Shortly after the Union’s 3-0 win over the New England Revolution on Sunday, Philadelphia sporting director Earnie Stewart walked into the locker room and wrapped his arms around Andre Blake.
Stewart wasn’t only there to congratulate the Union goalkeeper but also to wish him safe travels.
Blake was headed right to the airport to catch a plane to meet up with the Jamaican national team for two upcoming World Cup qualifiers. And fresh off a shutout and his second straight win, the timing of those games could not have been any better for the rising star, whose confidence is growing by the day.
“Soccer is about the moment,” Blake told MLSsoccer.com, “and right now I’m having a great moment.”
Blake knows better than most how fleeting great moments can be. Last year, he had two separate knee surgeries that caused his elevation to MLS starter to be delayed and also for him to be relegated to a third-stringer during Jamaica’s run to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final last summer.
But things have been much better since then, as Blake took over in net for the Union at the end of the 2015 season and has looked sharp through the first three games of 2016.
He’s also become a fixture with the Jamaican national team and is poised to start in net for the Reggae Boyz’s tough World Cup qualifying games against group-leaders Costa Rica on Friday and Tuesday.
“Sometimes when you start getting called up a lot, you can take it for granted,” Blake said. “But I try to make sure that’s not something I take for granted. Every time I get called up to play for my country, it’s an honor. I will always go there and do my best.”
Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin is pleased to see Blake play in such meaningful games for his country, especially since the 25-year-old won’t have to miss any MLS contests while doing so.
Blake, after all, still doesn’t have much experience at the top level and knows he needs to improve on certain aspects of his game, like playing with his feet.
“He’s been very good,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference Wednesday. “I’m happy with him. But it’s been three games and we know he can still can even give more.”
What he’s given so far, though, has been commendable as Blake made 10 saves in Philly’s opener in Dallas and seven the following week in Columbus, before picking up the shutout on Sunday. Perhaps even more impressive than his shot-stopping ability -- which the Union knew all about when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2014 -- is how well he has caught crosses in the box under pressure.
“He’s incredible,” center back Ken Tribbett said. “He’s a fantastic goalkeeper -- a safety net back there. If one of us makes a mistake and we need him to bail us out, he’s consistently done that from game to game.”
And Blake plans to keep doing that when he returns from his international stint, perhaps even better than he did before.
“We want to keep the momentum going,” the ’keeper said. “Hopefully when I go with the Jamaica team, I get those two games and come back and bring that experience and pick up right where I left off.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.