It is not often that a goal keeper is taken early in the SuperDraft as it is not often that a can't miss talent comes out of the NCAA ranks ready to contribute at the MLS level. In 2012 the first keeper to be selected was not until the 31st pick when New York Red Bulls took Ryan Meara,and since 2009 the only two keepers taken in the first round were Zac MacMath (5th pick by the Philadelphia Union) and Stefan Frei (13th pick by Toronto FC). Both MacMath and Frei were signed to Generation Adidas contracts that made them slightly more attractive to teams but also showed their high values coming out of the college ranks. In 2013 we could see another keeper take a similar route in UCONN's Andre Blake.
Blake is just wrapping up his sophomore season for the Huskies but the 22 year old Jamaican is already turning heads around the country thanks to his outstanding play. As a freshman, Blake started in all 25 of his school's games leading them to a 19-3-3 record and a spot in the NCAA's Elite Eight. He boasted 15 clean sheets and only allowed 10 goals all season leading to him being named the Big East Goalkeeper of the Year making him the first freshman in conference history to claim a major award.
He only built on that impressive freshman season in 2012 making 21 starts so far and leading the team to a 17-3-1 record and a place in the Elite Eight. So far this season he has conceded 11 goals but 3 of those came in a rare off game against Marquette while the rest of the season he has never allowed more than one goal and has recorded 12 clean sheets. He was once again named the Big East Goalkeeper of the year for 2012 and was again named to the All Big East team.
With Blake in goal, the Huskies are basically never out of a game. They have only scored 39 goals in 21 games so far this season which is not a high number compared to other top teams in the nation. Take away a 6-0 win over Harvard and that number looks even worse, but for the most part it has not mattered for the Huskies as they know that any time they score a goal or two they are going to have a chance of winning the game.
They missed out on both the Big East regular season and tournament titles but still found themselves going into the NCAA tournament as the number one seed. Now they are into the Elite Eight and have seen the likes of Akron and Notre Dame crashing out leaving them with a real chance to push towards their first tournament title since 2000. To get there though they will have to get past a Creighton side (Sunday Dec, 2nd - 1 EST) that turned heads by knocking off Akron in the last round. If they manage to do that their reward will likely be a College Cup date with Maryland for a spot in the National Championship game. It is certainly not an easy road left ahead of them but if they are to do it a lot of the pressure will fall on Blake.
Blake has basically all the traits that you look for in a goalkeeper, starting with the fact that he stands at 6 feet 4 inches and has a wing span to match. He uses that frame and some great athleticism to make himself an excellent shot stopper. He makes the kind of saves that you need from an elite goalkeeper which are those one or two saves a game that the average keeper would not have made. He has a knack for that highlight reel save but that is all from his natural abilities.
At just 22 years of age Blake is not yet the finished product though and there are areas of his game that need to mature and be refined. He has excellent raw abilities but will need to work on his composure and ball distribution before he is really ready to be a starting keeper at the professional level. The question now is where he would be best served working to add that bit of polish to his game to go along with that raw shot stopping ability.
With the ever shrinking Generation Adidas classes he may end up returning to UCONN for the 2013 season which would not be a bad thing at all. Another season of getting to work under Ray Reid and his coaching staff at one of the nation's top programmes might be just what he needs to cement his stock as an early pick in the MLS draft.
In 15 full seasons under Reid UCONN has been one of the consistent forces in NCAA soccer as the coach boasts an impressive record no matter how you look at it. He has led the Huskies to four National Championships, eight national semi-finals, seven Big East regular season titles, and four Big East tournament titles while being named that National Coach of the Year four times. He has also seen a fair bit of quality talent come through the program during his 15 years including the likes of O'Brian White, Chris Gbandi, Julius James, Tony Cascio, Bobby Rhine, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Shavar Thomas, and Josh Ford.
It is a program where Blake should have access to all the resources he needs to reach that next level as a keeper but the questions remains if he has any more that he can learn in the college setting. Being in a professional environment and working with full time coaches on a day to day basis would probably advance his technical development but unless he is getting playing time staying in college would probably do more for him.
If there is a team in MLS that is really looking for a keeper to play a small role in the present and be their number one guy down the road then they would be wise to push to have Andre Blake included in this years GA class. From what I have seen of him he is the kind of talent that you do not want to miss out on and should be a very good MLS starting keeper in a few years time with just a little refinement to his game.
The appeal of a keeper like Blake is that he has all of the intangibles that you need to have in a keeper. You cannot teach someone to be taller or more naturally athletic which are two things that Blake has on his side. You can teach them to be a better passer and work on their composure in the box. Most keepers coming into the MLS draft are seen as long term projects and as a result are often not picked up until later in the draft but Blake is different. In the short term he is a very good keeper in need of some polish but in the long term he could be developed into one of the top keepers in the league and a future number one for the Jamaican national team.
That is the other knock on Blake though, he is born and raised in Jamaica so would require an international roster slot on whatever team selects him. He has already been a part of Jamaica's U17 and U20 programs and is expected to continue to be a part of their national setup for a long time to come. With Jamaica not really having a clear cut number one in goal it is possible that Blake could be a key member of the National time sooner rather than later even if it is unlikely that he will play a role in the 2014 World Cup Qualifying cycle.
On the Toronto FC side of things it would be very surprising to see them giving Blake a serious look even if he is available in the 2013 SuperDraft. He is a very intriguing prospect but Toronto needs a lot more help in other positions than they do in goal. TFC already has Frei, Milos Kocic, and Freddy Hall on the books to fight for the starting job and they think they have their future keeper in Quillan Roberts who goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr seems to rate quite highly. For them to take a keeper with the first overall pick would just not make any sense.
Top Drawer Soccer had Blake going 4th overall in their mock draft while Ives is suggesting that he is likely to return to school. It seems there is not much consensus yet if he will be available in the 2013 draft but if he is do not expect him to last very long.