June 20, 2014
By Steve Lewis - UConn Athletic Communications
STORRS, Conn. – Andre Blake’s storied soccer career at the University of Connecticut has propelled him to the ranks of professional play in the MLS. Before he even entered the league back in January, the goalkeeper from May Pen, Jamaica had already made league history.
Blake became the first goalie to ever be chosen No. 1 overall in the league’s college draft when he was selected by the Philadelphia Union in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
“I was surprised and excited, I really didn’t see it coming,” said Blake of his draft status. “I thought maybe I would go in the top three, but I didn’t think Philadelphia was interested.”
The Union have had four-year veteran Zac MacMath starting as goalie since 2011, but could not pass up the opportunity to choose and develop the highly-touted and talented Blake.
The three-time NSCAA All-American was a dominant force between the pipes for the Huskies during his three years in Storrs. Blake was tabbed the Big East Goalkeeper of the Year (2011 and 2012) and the American Athletic Conference Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013.
Blake recorded 37 career shutouts as a Husky, all while building a 46-10-12 all-time mark in the net for UConn soccer coach Ray Reid’s team. The keeper was a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy in 2013, leading his team to an appearance in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
It is because of his success at UConn that Blake felt three years was sufficient when deciding whether or not to enter the draft.
“I always want to challenge myself,” said Blake. “I played well in college, but I always wanted to be a professional player. Why not challenge yourself?”
The Jamaican native saw his first MLS action on Tuesday, June 17 when the Union faced the Harrisburg City Islanders in the opening round of the U.S. Open Cup. The tournament is the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the United States.
Blake earned his first professional win in Chester, Pa. as the Union defeated the Islanders, 3-1. The UConn alum made five saves, surrendering only one goal in the 38th minute. Interim manager Jim Curtin was very pleased with his debut, saying that Blake’s debut was a “good starting point” for the backup goalie.
The 6’4’’, 175 lb. keeper was not starting for the Union at the beginning of the 2014 season, even while being the top pick in the draft. Though the Husky alum did not start his MLS career with a big impact, Blake took it all in stride and eagerly awaits his opportunity to be a consistent MLS starter.
“The goalie position is delicate, only one guy can play,” said Blake. “A lot of people have wondered why the number one pick isn’t playing. It’s about timing and toughness. Nothing easy will be handed to me, I just need to earn my chance.”
Though Blake and MacMath have a good working relationship during games, they are competitors during practices and workouts when trying to prove their readiness to be the starting keeper. Blake made a point to say that in all game scenarios, however, the team comes first.
“We’re both competing for one job, but at the end of the day, it’s one team,” said the former UConn player. “The team wins, not me or Zac. We support each other. If we win, it’s three points for Philadelphia.”
Besides the MLS, Blake has also been an active member of the Jamaican National Team since he was in his early teenage years. He played on the U-17 and U-20 National Teams, only being able to participate on a limited basis while in college.
The 23-year-old has started four games for the Senior Jamaican Men’s National Team this year, which includes two shutouts against Barbados and St. Lucia back in March. More recently, he played against Serbia on May 26 at Red Bull Arena (N.J.) and Switzerland in Lucerne on May 30.
Blake takes pride in his association with Jamaica’s National Team and tries to participate in team activities whenever possible.
“They try to include me in camps, which is great,” said Blake. “I didn’t have as much time in college to play with them due to school, but now I hope to play more frequently.”
When talking about his days as a Husky, Blake looks back and appreciates the skills he developed in Storrs, realizing their significance in his career.
“UConn taught me how to handle yourself when you’re busy and getting work done,” said Blake. “It helped prepare me for the pros by teaching me how to carry myself on and off the field.”
There is no telling if or where Blake will be playing in one, five, or ten years down the road, but for now, the number one pick merely views it as part of a rookie’s journey.
“When I first got in the league, I wanted to establish myself,” said the keeper. “Now I want to take a step back and focus on what I’m doing at this moment. That’s what is important.”