January 27, 2017
Earlier this offseason, a Twitter rumor popped up linking Andre Blake to a trial in Belgium or the Netherlands.
That never happened, and Blake's name did not appear in transfer speculation involving European or domestic suitors.
You'd think there would be at least some interest in the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, but that thought was denied by the Union technical staff, who said they received no offers for the player.
Blake himself was indifferent.
"I didn't pay that much attention," the Union goalkeeper said this week. "If there was actually something for real, I think at some point I would have heard about it. So, I saw the (rumor) about Belgium and I knew that that wasn't real right off the bat, because I know that was a few years ago.
"But it's good when you have speculation like that. It shows that you must be doing something right. Hopefully I can keep doing what I'm doing."
There's a key line in that quote – "because I know that was a few years ago".
That's important because it confirms that there certainly was interest in Blake's services when the old Union regime was in charge. I was told by two separate sources about a deal with a Belgian club that fell apart in the beginning of 2015 when Blake suffered an early-season knee injury. Nick Sakiewicz was running the team at the time and Blake was stuck behind Rais Mbolhi on the depth chart.
This is what one team source told me -
"What I can say is that he was definitely on the move (in 2015). I was told they were moving him during preseason, then he got hurt. The winter window, pre-2015 is when I heard most, if not all, of the chatter."
In October, agency Global Premier, who I believe represents Blake, tweeted out this regarding European interest:
KAA Gent invited Blake last season for training. Union refused to allow it. They are no longer interested. https://t.co/scwVwnV4Vn— Global Premier Mgmt (@GlobalPremMgmt) October 27, 2016
That doesn't exactly match what my sources told me, nor does the time frame refer to the beginning of 2015. It seems to refer to the fall and winter of 2015 and talks about a training invite, not a formal transfer. It seems like this was something separate.
Anyway, what we do know is that there was some legitimate European interest in Blake, in some way, shape or form. I highly, highly doubt that the Union did not receive any phone calls regarding his services this offseason.
If anything, you'd think his value has gone up in the past year. Blake started the campaign as the Union's undisputed number one and finished as the best stopper in Major League Soccer.
"It was great," Blake said of 2016. "Looking back, it was a big year for me. Now you have to work two times as hard to keep that going and improve on that. For me, personally, I try not to think about it too much, but to just approach this season the same way I did last season and put the hard work into practice. When I get to the games then hopefully I can continue to do great stuff."
In addition to being the Union's number one, Blake is also Jamaica's number one. He's been called up for friendly matches against the United States on February 3rd, and Honduras on February 15th, meaning he could be facing teammates Chris Pontius and Alejandro Bedoya in Chattanooga next Friday.
Blake's national team rise means more travel and more games, which will require both teams to take part in a balancing act.
"Yeah, it's tough but I think both teams handled it well," Blake explained. "If I go to the national team, they know I've been with the (Union) so they try to be smart in how they push me. When I come back from the national team, the Philadelphia Union does the same thing. But it's good.
"I'm a young goalkeeper and I need games. The more I play, the more I develop and the more experience I gain, which is good for me."
The Union crashed down the stretch last season and stumbled into the playoffs as the sixth and final seed in the east.
This year, Blake is setting the bar much higher for his club.
"I want to think that we should be able to finish top three this year," he said. "The guys, we gain experience as a group, we know what its gonna take and we know what we have to do. At the end of the last year we did well enough to, (despite) a bad last two months we got into the playoffs. So we know what it's going to take, and we all had good times and bad times together last year. I think we're a better group as it relates to that."
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @Kevin_Kinkead