SAN JOSE, Calif. – Andre Blake continued his rise as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS throughout 2016, with his impressive performances earning him a spot in last year’s All-Star game in San Jose. Fast forward 11 months, and the Jamaican remains a dominant topic in the Silicon Valley.
This year, the Jamaican captain has experienced another picture perfect summer, leading Jamaica to its second consecutive Gold Cup final. But Wednesday’s final will be a quite the opposite scenario for the 26-year-old, as he captain’s the Reggae Boyz against what could effortlessly disguise as an MLS best 11 side.
The heavily MLS-inspired U.S. Men’s National Team squad has been quick to recognizes Blake’s recent heroic performances — especially against Mexico — which led his country to CONCACAF’s big party. With that, comes the recognition of his style of play and what tools it will take for them to edge Philadelphia Union’s inform no. 1.
“Try to put the ball past him (Blake) that is all you can do,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. “He made an unbelievably reactive safe (Sunday) against Mexico in the early going, (and) a couple of other good saves. He’s grown as a goalkeeper because he’s very commanding, he’s excellent. The only way to get an edge on him is to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Familiar with development within MLS is Sporting KC’s longtime defender, Graham Zusi, who acknowledged Blake’s progression.
“Andre has been around for a few years now and has really proven to be a top-notch goalkeeper,” Zusi told SBI. “As far as going into this game, I don’t think you can really think about that too much or how a goalkeeper is performing.
“Just go about your game and just do what you do: create chances,” Zusi added. “The more the chances we create, the better opportunity we’ll have to get it in the back of the net.”
Very much against the home sides favor, Blake is just as familiar with the U.S. as they are with him. As for the man projected to be featuring between the two sticks on the opposite side of the field, he hopes Blake’s mirrored knowledge on them isn’t going be an added bonus to an already thriving figure.
“Hopefully it doesn’t give him much benefit at all,” Tim Howard said on Blake’s familiarity with the Americans. “He’s obviously playing very well and in order to get to a final everyone needs to be playing good defensively and your goalkeeper has to make saves.”
At the end of it all, the five-time Gold Cup winners do possess an abnormal amount of prior knowledge on what is arguably the tournament’s best player, which itself, can stand as a game-defying blueprint. But for a historic attacker, familiar with dismantling of goalkeepers, the major takeaway isn’t that. But the shot-stopper he faces day in and day out when prepping for big occasions such as Wednesday’s at Levis’ Stadium.
“Yeah, you can get little from the guys who play with him and your experiences from playing against him,” Clint Dempsey told SBI. “But like I was telling the guys earlier, the biggest confidence that we get is going up against Tim Howard.
“Every time we are in training: if you can go up against him, I think he prepares you for anybody,” Dempsey added. “We feel confident.”