Andre Blake: "In Jamaica, football comes from the street"
From the streets of small-town Jamaica to the Philadelphia Union, the story of Andre Blake proves that you can get ahead despite the difficulties.
Think about Jamaica, the beach and reggae come to mind, at least that’s how people think of it in many parts of the world. From now on, it will also bring to mind a man named Andre Blake, the Philadelphia Union and national team goalkeeper. At 26 years old and 6’3’’, Andre could not have chosen a better profession because he looks like a real goalkeeper. Not only that, but Blake is the best goalkeeper in the MLS, winning the same award as MLS goalkeeping legends like Tony Meola, Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.
"In Jamaica, the players were formed in the street, kicking improvised balls, meeting up with friends two, three times a day"
Like almost every professional footballer, Blake started playing football early. At the age of four, he started to kick the ball in the uncovered fields of his hometown, May Pen, and it was not until 12 that he received formal training and joined a youth team. "In the United States, there are training schools, academies, university football. In Jamaica, on the other hand, footballers grow in the street, kicking improvised balls, meeting up with friends two, three times a day."
|""The way I see it, allowing seven goals and losing the game is bad. I would rather not have any saves but win."|
Thanks to his friends, his brother and the discipline he acquired playing on the school team, Blake was discovered by the University of Connecticut. Although he always wanted to be a professional footballer and never planned to study, he accepted the call immediately. After three years of playing with the Huskies, he was chosen with the first pick by the Philadelphia Union in the MLS Draft.
He made his professional debut at the age of 23 against the Houston Dynamo in Texas and although his team lost 2-1, Andre had a good game. "I had at least seven saves, but I was not happy. The way I see it, allowing seven goals and losing is bad. I would rather not have any saves but win."
In 2015, Andre alternated holding a starting role and riding the bench due to two meniscus injuries, that had him out for a good part of the season. But in in 2016, his legend started to grow, playing memorable games. He especially remembers a game against Vancouver: "That day I made the best save of my career, but I also let in the dumbest goal. In the end we lost 3-2 and I was not happy, but that is the life of the goalkeeper, going from hero to villain in a few minutes."
With Jamaica far away, Andre goes to Jamaican restaurants to prepare his country's food. His favorite is Jamaican Jerk Hut, a restaurant in the center of Philadelphia. Thanks to a few friends and constant communications with his family, Andre maintains constant contact with Jamaica.
Blake would love to have more of his compatriots in the league, but it’s clear that, for this to happen, more effort needs to be made to take Jamaicans from lower divisions into the big leagues. As for goalkeepers, Blake admires David de Gea, goalkeeper for Manchester United. "I like his attitude, his style of attacking, the way he handles the game from behind."
Jamaica can’t get to the World Cup in Russia because they didn’t qualify for the final hex of CONCACAF, so Blake sees the Gold Cup as his chance to shine at the international level. Mexico, El Salvador and Curaçao will not be easy competition for Blake and his teammates in the competition’s group stage, but the #1 is confident that Jamaica will advance to the knockout round. "In today's football anyone can beat anyone, I think all four teams have a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals," he says.
His aspiration is to reach Europe and, if he continues his meteoric rise, the leap to the Old Continent is more than possible.
If it happened, he would have the opportunity to face De Gea, his idol. It's a dream, but for now, Andre is happy at the Philadelphia Union.