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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Friday, September 2, 2016

Assessing Andre: Praise for Blake as he nears a season of MLS games

The Union's Andre Blake, center, has played in major international tournaments
and an MLS All-Star Game. And he's just reaching a full season's worth
of games in MLS. (AP)
It’s been almost three years since Andre Blake strode across the stage at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the first name called in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by the host team, the Philadelphia Union.

In the intervening years, Blake has established himself as the No. 1 for Jamaica and garnered speculation of whether Europe lies in his future.

But while it feels like he’s been with the Union forever (at least long enough to see five Union teammates play goal in MLS), he’s nearing a significant milestone: Blake is one game shy of a season-long, 34-game sample on which to judge his talents.

Here are Blake’s career stats in MLS play:

33 games
114 saves/50 goals allowed
1.51 goals-against average
69.5 save percentage
8 clean sheets
12-13-8 record

The stats have to be taken with a sizeable grain of salt. Blake has played 26 of the Union’s 27 games this season, which means around a quarter of his career was logged with behind losing soccer, dragging the stats down. Yet Union manager Jim Curtin is upbeat about Blake’s individual contributions, particularly as he’s sustained them over a long stretch to validate the talent that so many saw in the Jamaican.

“He’s been excellent,” Curtin said Wednesday. “He’s a guy that you never know until you get your first full season, right? Still seven games left, but his body of work this year has been strong.”

Among MLS goalies with 12 or more games played this season, Blake ranks 15th in goals-against average (1.50) and 17th in save percentage (66.9). That’s not exactly jump-off-the-page stuff, even if his GAA is better than either Brian Sylvestre (1.58) or John McCarthy (1.64) last season. And in the perception-vs.-reality debate, recall that Blake was comfortably elected to the All-Star Game via the fan vote, meaning that the Union staff isn't the only one that sees something special in his approach to the game.

If you were to view Blake’s 33-game career total within the context of the 2015 full season leaders, the numbers look a little better.

Among goalies who played 12 or more games last year, Blake’s career save percentage would’ve ranked ninth. His goals-against average would be 15th.

But the crucial difference is in the saves category. Blake has made 81 saves in 2016, which ranks eighth in MLS. That’s a rate of 3.11 saves per game, as opposed to 3.45 per game over his career. The 114 career saves Blake has made would’ve tied for second-most in MLS last year, and that’s not a place a goalie wants to be. (For context, the top two goalies in saves this season – Orlando City’s Joe Bendik and Vancouver’s David Ousted – are on teams below the red line; 2015 saves leader Josh Saunders did so on a team that missed the postseason.)

Goalkeeping stats always hinge on the team in front of the goalie, and it’s hard to isolate one over the other. (For what it’s worth, here’s WhoScored’s goalkeeper ranking, which place Blake ninth in MLS this year, squarely in the middle of the curve.)

Curtin’s praise, though, indicates that Blake fits the Union’s plan. As a keeper well shy of the age at which netminders peak, playing behind a defense 75 percent composed of young players, consistency will come with time, making some of the measurables appear more in line with the perceptions.

But the tradeoff between potential and the present is one Curtin is willing to make.

“His upside is incredibly high,” Curtin said. “He has played great for us. He’s won us games by himself. He’s made big saves. He’s worth a heck of a lot of points at the end of the day. It’s a position that I know is important and Andre’s done a great job for us.”

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