CHESTER, Pa. — When Philadelphia Union captain Alejandro Bedoya returned to the Talen Energy Stadium field for the second half Sunday, he offered some inspiring words to goalkeeper Andre Blake.
“Right before we came out for the second half, I tapped him on the back and said, ‘We’ll get this for you and just keep your head up,'” Bedoya said. “That’s all you can do in that situation, right? He made some good saves and was able to grab crosses for us that were able to buy us some time.”
Blake made errors on each of the three first-half goals conceded to the New York Red Bulls.
On Josh Sims’ sixth-minute opener, the Jamaican keeper was caught in the wrong position to save a casual strike that flew into the back of the net.
In the 24th minute, Blake whiffed on a corner kick that led to a Tim Parker goal, and right before halftime, he dropped a catch in the middle of the box, allowing Tom Barlow to capitalize.
“It’s soccer. The wind was very strong,” Blake said. “It was wet and there was traffic in front of me so it was tough. I stick to the task and I know I had to keep going and keep believing in my teammates and know it’s never too late to turn things around.”
The third concession frustrated the Union’s leaders, but they rallied in the locker room with the knowledge of their comeback against the Red Bulls June 8 in Chester.
“Whatever you can think of [I said in the locker room],” Bedoya said. “I can’t resay everything I said. I was just pissed off with that third goal. I thought we were on them and putting pressure on them. We should’ve gotten the second goal.
“It was a cheap goal to give up. It was a bit deflating, but at the same time, after I got my emotions back in check, I said we’ve been here before. We were down two goals the last time we played them at home and there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”
Head coach Jim Curtin kept confidence in Blake, who has experienced more struggles in 2019 than in past seasons.
“I hate to make it simple, but you know Andre has won games for us and won us points in the past by himself,” Curtin said. “So, errors happen all over the field, and the thing about soccer, everybody makes a mistake in the course of 90 minutes, they always get magnified more at the goalkeeper position.”
“We stressed to the players to have his back and pick him up when he needs it, just like when he’s picked us up so much in the past when we used to give up 30 shots a game,” Curtin said. “I’m joking, but he bailed us a lot of games as well in the past. We had Andre’s back, and this is a team that is together.”
The entire Union squad reset during the break and it showed. Seven minutes into the second half, Jack Elliott began the comeback.
In the final 60 minutes of the contest, the Union back line and Blake held the Red Bulls to a single shot on goal, a performance that built up the unit’s confidence in the 4-3 extra-time victory.
But there are still some concerns about Blake heading into the Eastern Conference semifinal clash with Atlanta United.
Andre Blake gave up 10.06 more goals than expected this year. That single season mark ranks 2nd worst *all time* per the @AnalysisEvolved data set.
It’s also the *worst* single season mark by a GK with at least 2000 minutes in a season on a per 96 minute rate. #rbny
— Nick (@RBNY_Nick) October 20, 2019
Blake, who was named to the 2019 MLS All-Star team, had his lowest save and shutout totals since 2016, and he had three fewer victories than he did a year ago.
Despite the struggles, Blake is confident in his ability heading into Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Any time you get to play another game it’s huge,” Blake said. “For me, the game is over. I’m going to put it behind me. I’m going to watch film and see what I could’ve done better. For me, it’s always about learning. You’re going to make mistakes. Keep a smile on your face and keep pushing and keep weathering the storm and keep believing that it’s going to get back to where it was.”
In two matches against Atlanta United during the regular season, Blake saved four of the six shots sent in his direction. If the Union produce similar defensive showings, they could pull off an upset versus the No. 2 seed.
“We’re going to go down to Atlanta and do our best,” Blake said. “We believe we can go there and win.”