By KEVIN KOCZWARA
University of Connecticut coach Ray Reid has seen his fair share of accomplished goalkeepers.
In his 25 years as a head coach with both UConn and the University of Southern Connecticut, Reid has had a total of nine stalwart starting goalkeepers. None, however, were ever as good as Andre Blake, the Huskies All-American junior goalkeeper. Reid believes Blake is destined for big things after he finishes his college career, when he eventually makes the move to Major League Soccer.
“Andre [Blake] will be an all-star in that league [MLS],” says Reid. “He’s a fantastic goalkeeper.”
Pro scouts are already familiar with Blake, who is widely-regarded as leading candidate to be signed by Major League Soccer as an underclassmen after this season.
Blake, a lanky goalkeeper with strong hands and good feet, grew up in May Pen, Jamaica and was spotted by Dane Brenner, now an assistant coach at Wake Forest. Brenner, who helped develop Josh Ford, an All-American goalkeeper for UConn and now a back-up goalkeeper with the Seattle Sounders, saw enough of Blake to bring him in for a visit. From there, Blake took over.
Immediately Blake snatched the Huskies starting goalkeeper spot in net and put up record numbers as a freshman. The Jamaican, who has featured for the Under-20 national team and more recently earned call-ups with the full senior national team, finished his rookie campaign with 15 shutouts, including nine straight shutouts in September and October, and a 0.39 goals against average, the third best in team history and second in the NCAA in 2011.
Blake followed his freshman season by being named an All-American in his sophomore season, leading the Huskies to a 17-4-1 record with 12 shutouts.
According to Blake, it’s God given talent and his work ethic that have contributed to his remarkable skills between the posts.
“For me it is mostly about having that God given talent and the ability,” said Blake. “When you have the talent and the tools you just have to work hard.”
And, despite starting out as a field player someone at a young age — a coach probably, he can’t recall exactly — put him in goal and it clicked. He’s never looked back and doesn’t see himself as anything on the soccer field except a goalkeeper.
“Since I’ve known myself I’ve been a goalkeeper. I can’t pinpoint the day or the moment when I’m like ‘that’s what I want to do,'” said Blake. “When I was younger I use to play on the field and you know, just tried [playing] in the goal and I guess someone saw the talent and pushed for it.”
A lot will hinge on Blake’s talent this year for UConn. The Huskies have been thwarted in their attempt to win a National Championship in the quarterfinals in agonizing defeat the past two years. The Huskies lost in a shootout in 2011 and followed that up last year’s by allowing a goal to Creighton with less than two minutes to play in regulation last year, losing, 1-0.
This year Blake hopes the experiences of the past two seasons will help UConn overcome the hump they’ve seen to be stuck at in the quarterfinals.
“This year we have to go out and work hard and find the missing piece that has been holding us back,” Blake said.
Blake has often been the stellar for UConn in his first two years, but that extra piece could just be another year of development and experience for the goalkeeper, because during tight games, the best players stand above the rest and there is no bigger stage for a goalkeeper than during those tense moments at the end of tournament games.
Pro scouts will be watching Blake closely. Considered one of the best goalkeeping prospects to emerge from the college scene in years, Blake is a leading candidate to receive a Generation adidas offer from MLS when the season ends. But that offer won’t come unless he can put together yet another outstanding campaign. The type of campaign that will have observers joining Ray Reid in his belief that Blake is one of the best to ever come through the college ranks.