By Kevin Kinkead
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Andre Blake set a Philadelphia Union franchise record when he made ten saves in a single game on Saturday night.
Naturally, that stellar performance amplified calls for Blake to start in the U.S. Open Cup final.
Manager Jim Curtin rolled out a second-string team in New England, so Blake’s appearance in goal seems to suggest that John McCarthy will be between the pipes at PPL Park on Wednesday night. McCarthy has played every minute of the USOC this season in lieu of the cup-tied Brian Sylvestre. Blake’s status has been hard to discern, as he’s been in and out of the lineup in the second half of the year.
So who starts?
I can make a case for both players.
It’s fair to say that Blake is the better athlete. This is a highly touted player who was chosen #1 overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. Connecticut soccer coach Ray Reid called Blake “the best goalkeeper” he’s coached in his 26-year career. John Hackworth and his technical staff even traded up from #2 to #1 just to get their hands on him.
Blake is slightly taller. He’s listed as 6’4” but that’s a generous measurement. He’s certainly closer to 6’2” or 6’3”. The same goes for McCarthy, who is listed by MLS as 6’3”, when he’s probably an inch shorter.
Blake has that lean and lanky Caribbean build, like a young Donovan Ricketts. His wingspan is significant and provides a bit more lateral coverage in front of goal. His reflexes are second-to-none and he’s a natural shot-stopper. Blake can get a bit higher to punch crosses and snag balls out of the air.READ MORE: Zack Wheeler K's 9 In 7 Shutout Innings, Phillies Top Padres 3-0
He’s more inclined to perform the spectacular save or make a point-blank parry.
Pretty good week for UConn alums. First, Cyle Larin nets a hat-trick in Orlando win, then Andre Blake makes 10 saves to help Philly tie Revs
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) September 27, 2015
McCarthy, on the other hand, is one of the main reasons that Philadelphia is even in the USOC final. His performances in two sets of penalty kicks were phenomenal. First, he kept a clean sheet against Rochester, then saved three spot kicks to advance his team to the next round. At Red Bull Arena, his save on Lloyd Sam proved to be the difference maker, after Bradley Wright-Phillips struck his first penalty off the bar. Whether it was purposeful or not, there was a delay before that first kick, and McCarthy may have disrupted the striker’s rhythm with a bit of inadvertent gamesmanship involving the referee.
The Philadelphia native might be a bit shaky coming off his line. He creates some nervy moments in matches. But his penalty saves have been critical in this tournament. McCarthy has played every minute backstopping a rearguard that has only allowed two goals in four games throughout the competition.
I don’t think McCarthy is the “sentimental” favorite just because of his local connections. I also don’t think he’s the de facto selection just because he played in the other USOC games. There are plenty of examples where a backup goalkeeper plays the early rounds of a cup competition, then cedes to the starter in a final or semifinal. That’s certainly an option here.
Choosing Blake gives you a superior athlete with natural shot-stopping and reactionary skills. Choosing McCarthy gives you an experienced goalkeeper with a proven penalty-saving ability.
And if there’s any conflict created by media or fans, it certainly doesn’t exist between the two; McCarthy was the first to embrace Blake after Saturday night’s game.MORE NEWS: Republican Nomination For Pennsylvania U.S. Senate Race Uncertain As Thousands Of Mail-In Votes Still Being Counted
Whatever Curtin decides to do, he’s not going to be short-changed.