The Union still haven’t made any substantial additions to their roster this offseason. They still haven’t released the 2018 jersey that many fans want to buy, despite teasing it with videos on social media revealing the shirt to players and team staff.
But they have answered another big question: What’s the future of goalkeeper Andre Blake?
The Union announced Wednesday that the Jamaica native has agreed to a new multiyear contract with the Union, tying his fate to Philadelphia for some time to come. A source told the Inquirer and Daily News that the deal has three guaranteed years and a club option for a fourth.
“It is a priority for us to build and secure the foundation of the Philadelphia Union, and Andre is as big a part of that foundation as any player,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said in a statement. “Ensuring he will be here for years to come is an important step for our club. We’re delighted to sign him to a new multiyear contract and would like to thank him for his dedication and hard work.”
Blake’s new contract includes a significant pay raise. His salary-cap hit was brought down via MLS’ Targeted Allocation Money mechanism.
“They expressed that they would like to have me back,” Blake said in a conference call with reporters. “We have been in talks for a while, and I’m just happy to be able to come to an agreement. … It’s definitely great to know you’re wanted for your performance,”
Keeping Blake here gives the Union security at a key position. He is one of MLS’ top goalkeepers, as evidenced by his winning goalkeeper of the year in 2016 and finishing as runner-up this past season. At 27, he’s entering the prime years of his career.
That said, don’t assume that Blake will see out the entirety of his new contract with the Union. He has had suitors in Europe for a few years now, and if he keeps playing well for club and country, he’ll continue to.
Among the teams reportedly interested last year was English club Crystal Palace, which coincidentally is owned by 76ers owner Josh Harris. English teams could not do a deal because Jamaica’s ranking in FIFA’s index is too low to qualify Blake for an English work permit.
The interest came chiefly because of his stellar performances for Jamaica at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, where he was named the tournament’s top goalkeeper, and the 2016 Copa América Centenario. Smart scouts won’t have forgotten that. But it will be a while before he’s next on a big international stage, as the next Gold Cup is in 2019.
Blake sees some virtue in the stability that comes with his new deal.
“It’s always good when there’s a place you can call home,” he said. “Right now, my main focus is Philadelphia, and I’m not worried about the future. I’m going to live in the now, work hard and make my performance speak for itself.”
Blake will have a new goalkeeper coach to work with this season. Tim Hanley, a longtime assistant with the San Jose Earthquakes, has the job after Oka Nikolov left for the Los Angeles Galaxy when his contract expired.
As MLS continues to grow its global profile, Blake will likely find ways to remain in the headlines. The new CONCACAF Nations League tournament, which launches in September, will help. That will give Jamaica’s national team more games to play, and Blake will likely be in net for them.
Blake would also benefit if the Union sign new players who can get the club to the playoffs, which hasn’t happened yet.