Sport

Keeping it real

Goalie Blake puts early error behind him to save the day for Boyz

IAN BURNETT ON TOUR with the REGGAE BOYS

Wednesday, May 28, 2014    

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HARRISON, New Jersey — Jamaica's Reggae Boyz might have lost against Serbia at the Red Bull Arena on Monday evening, but one man who won the admiration of many with his performance whether at the venue or via television, was goalkeeper Andre Blake.

The 23-year-old 6' 4" May Pen native became the first goalkeeper ever to be selected with the top pick in the history of Major League Soccer (MLS) when he was selected as number one overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by the Philadelphia Union in January, after leaving the University of Connecticut a year early after signing

a Generation adidas contract with MLS.

So his pedigree was never in doubt. However, having seen little of time with the Union, many questions were raised, some by the player himself.

"Match practice is always important, but also it's all in the mind," Blake told the Jamaica Observer at game's end.

"Because today (Monday) if I was thinking about not playing for my club then I probably wouldn't have had a good game," he explained.

Blake was helpless in a frenzied first half when his three-man defensive scheme got its wires crossed, as they went two goals down inside the first quarter of the game. And his own judgement in error might have aided in the second goal when Manchester City's left back Aleksandar Kolarov blasted in from inside the penalty area from a tight angle.

"Errors have caught goalkeeper bigger than me, so who am I for it not to happen to. It was a good hit, I never expected it, though as a goalkeeper you have to expect anything, but as I've said before it has happened to everybody and it is just about short-term memory. It happens, but you don't let it affect you for the rest of the game," he offered.

Though he accepted blame for that strike, even before the Europeans had opened the scoring, Blake's experience was called on from as early as the third minute.

Jamaican Striker Darren Mattocks, who had retreated to help out in defence, picked up a clearance midway his half on the right flank. Though facing his goal he played a blind pass intended for Blake, only for the lurking Aleksandar Mitrovic to intercept.

The big striker was confronted by the alert goalkeeper, who forced him to serve a pass for the onrushing Lazar Markovic, who cleared the way before slamming the ball against the crossbar.

After conceding two goals so early, Blake rose to the occasion and proved too good for the slick Serbians.

"Definitely, I had an excellent game, but like I said it goes back to having short-term memory, where I was able to let the error go and not let it affect me for the rest of the game."

But apart from making point-blank saves, Blake exhibited fearlessness, a command of his area to thwart numerous crosses into the area, and as the match stats revealed, he made six saves, three in each half, and seven punch/catch saves in 16 shots, eight of which were on target.

He admitted that he had to assume responsibility with the team's defence, especially after the nervous start by the players immediately in front of him.

"Yeah, we knew it was going to be a very tough game, we knew what we had to do, so I was trying to tell the guys to stay compact and stay together. We started the game a little shakily, as so many of the guys were timid, but I knew that as the game progressed things were going to change, so I told myself that they already have two (goals) so I have to stop them from getting anymore and we would have a chance of getting back once the guys came out of their shells and started to play."

But Blake saved his best for last when in the 88th minute substitute Hughan Gray fouled Kolarov inside the penalty area giving Canadian referee Dave Gantar no choice but to point to the penalty spot.

Kolarov, who is renowned for an educated left foot, picked himself up and spotted the ball. The majority Serbian support inside the 25,000 capacity Arena were set to celebrate a 3-1 scoreline, but Blake had other ideas and he threw himself to his right to palm away the firm strike, drawing contratualtions from teammates.

He claims to use an educated guess when facing penalties.

"I didn't know that was the guy who plays

for Manchester City until after the game, but I have a strategy and when he walked up he basically showed me where he was going (with the kick) and based on my strengths, I just executed the save.

"It was a pretty good penalty because even though I guessed right, it almost beat me, so it was a good penalty, but in the end the strategy worked for me."

One man who was not surprised by Blake heroics was goalkeeper coach and former Reggae Boyz skipper Warren Barrett.

"He had a wonderful game, a man-of-the-match performance and that's what I expected from him," beamed Barrett.

Barrett highlights Blake's strengths as his confidence, his shot-stopping ability, his lightning quick reflexes, as well as his alertness around the penalty area.

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