Since the Union traded up to draft him first overall in January's MLS SuperDraft, goalkeeper Andre Blake's opportunities to play have been limited to a pair of appearances in the U.S. Open Cup, a stint with the Jamaican national team and in training sessions during the week.
With the Union mired in a bye week from MLS competition, Blake got the nod in goal over starter Zac MacMath for last night's friendly with Crystal Palace, of the English Premier League. And although Philadelphia came out on the losing end, Blake displayed his talent, making several great saves in a 1-0 defeat at PPL Park.
"He's a very talented young goalkeeper," Union interim manager Jim Curtin said. "There's no secret; that's the reason why he was the No. 1 pick. He's a very good asset that we have, a great young goalkeeper and a guy that I think has a bright future, not only with our club, but, I think beyond that, in Europe. I think he's that talented."
The game's lone goal was gift-wrapped to Crystal Palace. It came in the 19th minute, when Union center back Ethan White errantly headed a ball over Blake's head and into the net for an own goal.
Blake responded by making a trio of impressive saves in the next couple of minutes, including two from close range in one sequence. He recorded six saves on the night, including five in the first half.
The Union had several quality chances in the second half, first in the 69th minute, when Crystal Palace's Julian Speroni saved a Sheanon Williams header. In the 81st minute, Sebastien Le Toux shot to the far side of the goal, only inches from both the post and forward Antoine Hoppenot.
Nineteen players saw time for Philadelphia. Among the seven halftime substitutions was Pedro Ribeiro, a 2014 first-round pick who has been playing with the Harrisburg City Islanders. Last night marked the PPL Park debuts for both Ribeiro, who played center back instead of his natural spot in the midfield, and Brian Brown, the Jamaican striker the Union acquired on loan on July 11.
"It's amazing. That's the moment I've been waiting for since I got drafted," Ribeiro said. "I've played a bunch of games in Harrisburg, but still, it's a different environment. It's good to have that first opportunity here at PPL."
Brown and Austin Berry played 73 minutes each. Berry, the Union's Opening Day center back who's battled myriad injuries this season, made his first appearance since May 17.
The only players available for selection who did not play were MacMath and third-string keeper Brian Holt.
"Being the backup goalie, there's no space for error so you know every time you get a chance, if it's five minutes, if it's 10 minutes, you want to make the best of it," Blake said. "You want to jump on it, and I'm just trying to be always ready so whenever my number is called, I can go out there and do my best."
Jim Curtin said the Union (5-8-8) is "hopeful" midfielder Cristian Maidana (hamstring) will return to the pitch for next Friday's road match against first-place Sporting Kansas City (10-5-5) . . . Midfielder Michael Lahoud will not be available in Kansas City because he earned his third call-up to the Sierra Leone national team. Sierra Leone is playing in a 2015 African Cup of Nationals qualifier against Seychelles a week from today.