Andre Blake: “The sky’s the limit and we’re challenging ourselves every day.” ( Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
PASADENA, Calif. — From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, Andre Blake was super, fantastic and fabulous Thursday night.
In other words, he played his usual game for the Jamaica national team.
Blake was credited with 11 saves in the Reggae Boyz’ 2-1 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal win over Canada at the University of Phoenix Stadium, a result that propelled them into the semifinals for the second year in a row.
The Philadelphia Union keeper’s heroics were nothing new to his Jamaican teammates.
“Awesome, awesome, awesome,” Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence said.
“I think one of the best right now in the world. I’m not even trying to be over the top. Definitely the best in CONCACAF, definitely the best in the U.S. He’s just an awesome guy, a humble guy.”
Ditto for forward Romario Williams, who scored a goal Thursday to help send the Reggae Boyz into Sunday’s semifinal against Mexico at the Rose Bowl.
“The guy has been doing it for years,” he said. “I’ve known him for a long time, ever since we’ve been playing in Jamaica, at the collegiate level. He’s been doing big things in MLS. There’s a reason why he was voted the best keeper last year and was an all-star last year. I mean, I’ve seen him day and day out in practice. I know what the guy is capable of. He’s truly a special talent, one of a kind. I’m not surprised. That’s why he’s back there. There’s a reason why he’s our leader, keeps us in game. He’s done an incredible job and he’s been doing it all tournament.”
Including Thursday night.
Blake was superb when needed, denying Dejan Jakovic’s header a minute into first-half stoppage time, parrying away Junior Hoilett’s shot from distance in the 71st minute, making a two-handed save on Michael Petrasso’s eight-yard blast in the 87th minute and smothering Alfredo Mejia’s close-range try two minutes into second-half injury time.
“He commands his area,” Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore said. “He commands his back four. Andre is the kind of goalkeeper, who positions well in goal. He gives the team that sort of confidence that the team needed.”
The key to Blake’s game?
“I’ve been in enough games that soccer where one minute you have nothing to do and all of sudden you’re all over the place making saves.,” he said. “It’s a lot mental to try to find a way to stay in the game and stay focused by talking with the guys and giving them directions in front of me. That kind of keeps me in the game.”
The 2016 Major League Soccer goalkeeper of the year, Blake was not selected to the league’s all-star game against Real Madrid in Chicago Aug. 2.
He wasn’t slighted by the exclusion.
“It is what is,” he said. “They have their way of going about it. They have the fans vote and the coach picks a goalkeeper. I wasn’t chosen. That’s ok, that’s fine with me. Life goes on. The journey continues. For me, I just got to keep playing, keep doing what I’m doing, keep improving.”
At the moment, Blake has more realistic concerns on his plate, such as helping Jamaica get past Mexico.
This is the second time in a row the Jamaicans reached the semifinals as they face El Tri in a rematch of the 2015 final. Mexico prevailed in that match, 3-1.
“A lot of people don’t believe in us, but that’s OK,” Blake said. “As long as we believe in each other. we just have to stick together, stay grounded, remember that we haven’t won anything yet and keep fighting. Hopefully, we can go all the way to the final and win the whole thing.”
Regardless what transpires, it has been one memorable ride to the top.
“The sky’s the limit and we’re challenging ourselves every day,” Blake said. “Right now it’s about the next game and then the next game. We’re going to push ourselves as much as possible and we’ll see what happens.”