Friday, January 17, 2014

A Star Is Born: Andre Blake

In case you hadn't heard, Andre Blake was drafted number one by the Philadelphia Union in MLS SuperDraft on Thursday.

Who is Andre Blake?  He is a Jamaican-born goalkeeper with three years of college soccer experience at the University of Connecticut.  While at UCONN, he played in 36 shutouts (clean sheets) and received all-american honors.

Blake became the first goalkeeper selected as the number one pick in the MLS SuperDraft.  He is following in the footsteps of Donovan Ricketts, another MLS star goalkeeper with Jamaican roots.

The 36 year-old Ricketts is captain of the Jamaican National Team.  He has experience with a few MLS teams (LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and currently with the Portland Timbers) over the last several years and also with teams in England early in his career (the Bolton Wanderers and Bradford City).

There was a time when Ricketts was on the verge of super stardom when he was defending goal for the Galaxy in the David Beckham years.  Landon Donovan, along with Beckham, raised the profile of Ricketts at that time in his career (from 2009-2011) as the Galaxy were the closest thing to traveling all-stars MLS had ever known.

It is rare for MLS draft picks to make too much noise among the mainstream sports media outlets.  And, it can be said that this year was no different.

The pick by the Union for Blake is not major sports news.  But, for what MLS is set up to accomplish over the next 10-15 years, Blake as a fresh face in an important position on the field with youth and charisma should get the attention of soccer fans.

The goalkeeper position does not tend to get a lot of glory in the sport of soccer.  Though, there are plenty of exceptions throughout soccer's history and throughout world club soccer.

Iker Casillas has definitely proved that super stardom can be made from the goalkeeper position by leading Real Madrid to multiple championships over several years.  Jose Luis Chilavert from Paraguay became a famous goalkeeper not just for his defensive abilities, but also for his dozens of goals off of set pieces throughout the years. Then, there was Rene Higuita, who perfected the Scorpion Kick and came dribbling way out of the box to excite crowds for years mainly in South America.

Tim Howard, Kasey Keller and Tony Meola are probably the three most famously skilled American goalkeepers. Meola made his mark in the early years of MLS while Keller had a long career that ended with successful seasons in MLS with the Sounders.  Howard continues to play for Everton in the EPL and as the number one option for the U.S. Men's National Team (Nick Rimando with Real Salt Lake of MLS has raised his profile too over the last few years and has the backup spot to Howard on the National Team).

The Union have to figure out how to get Blake into the starting lineup quickly and help him to carve a niche with American audiences who love athleticism.  Andre Blake can be the face of MLS goalkeeping for many seasons to come by becoming a goal-stopper extraordinaire--displaying the best saves possible from match to match.

He has one thing going for him for sure-the hairstyle.  And, we know cool hair can be half the battle.  Blake would already make the Top 5 Most Striking MLS Hairstyles for sure.  

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