Exclusive: Interview with MLS SuperDraft No. 1 overall pick Andre Blake

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Anyone who has followed Andre Blake knows the freakishly-athletic Jamaican goalkeeper is not nervous on the big stage. With back-to-back NCAA tournament wins going to penalty kicks and a shutout streak spanning almost 1000 minutes at UConn back when he was a freshman, the 6-foot-4 keeper has been calm under duress.

But when the Philadelphia Union traded up to the No. 1 overall spot in the MLS SuperDraft in order to select Blake, the young man was caught in a unique moment. Here he was in front of his new supporters as they chanted to him that he was now “one of us.”

“Just being there, in Philadelphia, being drafted by Philadelphia Union at No. 1 is a great feeling,” Blake told PST on Friday afternoon. “The fans reaction after it, I felt at home with it.

“The experience was a great experience, one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”

RELATED: Surprise of the 2014 MLS Draft: Philadelphia took a goalkeeper. Hmmm… (by Steve Davis)

Having traded up to select him first, it’s no surprise Philadelphia manager John Hackworth calls Blake  “the best guy in the whole draft.” The Union boss loved his draft and the keeper was key to that adoration.

Yet Hackworth said Blake won’t start and labeled the pick as the most significant competition for Zac MacMath, whose just 22, though you’d have to at least allow that it could be a show of lip service to the vet considering Hackworth’s description of Blake is that the rookie “can do stuff now that nobody in our league can do.”

source: AP“I knew they were interested because I know the coach has been following me while I was at school,” Blake said. “I had a talk with him two or three days before the draft, so I knew they were interested. I just didn’t know what to expect.”

Blake established himself well over three years at UConn that saw the Huskies advance past the NCAA quarterfinals in each year. As a freshman, Blake started all 25 games, going 19-3-3 with an absurd 15 clean sheets. As a sophomore, he repeated as BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Year, with 12 clean sheets.

Though those gaudy numbers weren’t quite replicated this season — he only had 10 shutouts — Blake proved invaluable when UConn eliminated UMBC and No. 1 UCLA from the NCAA tournament in penalty kicks.

How was that experience?

“That was just brilliant,” Blake said. “People say it’s a lot of pressure for the keeper but I took that and flipped it around. I put all the pressure on the kicker, knowing that the kicker’s expected to score. It worked.”

RELATED: MLS, Philadelphia having difference of opinion on Maurice Edu (by Steve Davis)

A member of the U-17 and U-20 Jamaican national teams, he says he has a good relationship with MLS Reggae Boyz like Darren Mattocks and Omar Daley.

Blake dreams of manning the nets for the full senior side in addition to becoming the top goalkeeper in Major League Soccer. And down the line, he sure would love to take shots on club soccer’s biggest stages.

“My ultimate goals are to one day play in the Barclays Premier League,” Blake said. “But I want to take it one step at a time and show MLS and Generation adidas that I’m very appreciative of them for choosing for me such a thing like this. I want to go into the league, be very dedicated to my team and take it from there.”

Blake laughed when asked to pinpoint the most interesting thing about him. He’s a cool customer who likes his Bob Marley and keeping a calm perspective.

“The most interesting thing about me is I’m a totally different person off the field than on it,” Blake said. “I’m a laid back guy who wants to play a little bit of music and anybody can feel free to come up to me and have a conversation.”

What would Gold Cup win mean for Bruce Arena’s future?

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The U.S. face Jamaica in the 2017 Gold Cup final in Santa Clara, Calif. on Wednesday and winning this competition would be very significant for the USMNT and head coach Bruce Arena.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up?

This is much more than a second-tier tournament for the U.S.

Arena arrived in November 2016, just days after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as USMNT head coach following five years of ups and downs which yielded one Gold Cup (2013) a Round of 16 spot at the 2014 World Cup and a semifinal appearance at the 2016 Copa America Centenario. The downs were too numerous to mention.

In his 13 games so far, Arena has yet to lose in his second spell in charge of the USMNT.

Sure, plenty of those games have been friendlies, winnable World Cup qualifiers (points on the road in Honduras and Mexico were huge) and Gold Cup group games, but he’s still managed his squad exceptionally well and has put both himself and his players in a much more positive frame of mind heading into a big 12 months.

If Arena leads the U.S. to Gold Cup glory on Wednesday, it would not doubt prove U.S. Soccer correct in hiring him and turning around the fortunes of the program which seemed riddled with infighting and anguish under Klinsmann.

Arena is a straight talker, we all know that, and the Brooklyn native is feeding off his vast experience in MLS and from his first stint in charge of the the U.S. from 1998-2006. The 65-year-old is a consummate man-manager, the Sir Alex Ferguson of the U.S. soccer scene if you will, and Arena has already fostered a strong team spirit despite having a huge player pool and almost three separate squads to juggle over the past seven months.

Sure, the European contingent from the U.S is missing for the Gold Cup and so are plenty of stars from Mexico, Costa Rica and other nations but on home soil the U.S. has got by shaky defensive displays to breeze into the final. The USMNT was in a similar situation in the last Gold Cup and didn’t handle it well.

Arena has juggled the demands of his senior players, promising youngster and certain situations (think of the tactical and personnel switches at the Azteca in June) admirably but he knows his strongest team and sticks to it when crunch time arrives.

The U.S. are the heavy favorites against the Reggae Boyz but we all know what Jamaica is capable of after they beat Klinsmann’s U.S. side 2-1 in the 2015 Gold Cup semifinal to hammer another considerable nail into his fast assembling U.S. Soccer coffin.

Arena has a contract through the end of the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer and although the U.S. still has to qualify for the tournament, if these positive results continue then maybe Arena is the long-term answer for Sunil Gulati and Co.

First up, he has to win the Gold Cup. Secondly, he has to guide the U.S. to the World Cup. And then if he excels in Russia next summer (another Round of 16 berth, or better, would be a great success) then who knows what’s next for Arena?

Everyone agreed he was the smart hire with the USMNT in turmoil back in November but nobody saw it going this smoothly.

Kudos to Arena for his understated, straight-forward approach which is exactly what the USMNT need right now, and possibly for many years to come.

Bayern defender Juan Bernat out weeks after ankle surgery

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich defender Juan Bernat has been ruled out for several weeks after undergoing surgery on his left ankle.

[ MORE: Man United’s transfer plans

Bayern says the 24-year-old Bernat suffered the injury last Saturday in a friendly game against Milan in Shanghai, and that he underwent surgery in Munich on Monday.

Bernat, who joined Bayern from Valencia in 2014, has played in 65 Bundesliga games for the side, winning the league in each of his three seasons. He has made seven appearances for Spain.

 

Jose Mourinho gives Manchester United transfer update

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Jose Mourinho has been speaking about which players he wants to add in the final weeks of the summer transfer window.

[ VIDEO: United beat Real Madrid ]

Ahead of United’s International Champions Cup clash with Barcelona in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, Mourinho has been speaking to the media and earmarked the two positions where he wants to sign new players.

Via the Manchester Evening News, here’s what he had to say.

“I’m happy with my squad but I would like to have two more players, I never hide that,” Mourinho confirmed. “One player would be a midfield player that gives me more options and balance to the team and our needs. Another one an attacking player, especially that can play through the wings to give me also more attacking options. But I never speak about players that belong to other teams, I don’t like if any manager comes now and would say he would like one of my players, that’s not correct. I would like two more players but probably I only get one.”

So, there you have it.

With United linked with moves for central midfielders Eric Dier, Nemanja Matic and Radja Nainggolan, plus wingers Ivan Perisic and Marco Asensio for much of the summer, Mourinho has made it clear that time of speculation isn’t too far off the mark.

United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward flew to the USA this week and Mourinho was coy when asked if the main negotiator at Old Trafford had any transfer updates for him.

“I don’t know, honestly,” Mourinho admitted. “Ed is in control, he did Lindelof and Lukaku, he knows that I would like two more players, but he also knows that I have balance, I understand the situation, I understand the market, and if my club is unable to do two players and just one, I will accept that as a consequence of the market now. Our relation is good and I just wait for good news, and he knows for me the good news is to have the players, maybe just the player as soon as possible because to work together with the team is really, really important. But I’m calm, I like my players, I like my squad, I trust them, so I’m calm and that’s important.”

After adding Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof for a combined total of $135 million this summer, Mourinho addressed his main needs in central defense and up top.

Adding a holding midfielder would seem to be the smart play and is by far the weaker area compared to bringing in another wide player, with Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick the only two true defensive midfielders in their squad.

Out wide United have a host of options including Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia.

If United, as Mourinho states, can only bring in one player then they should make signing Matic, Dier or Nainggolan a priority.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Coutinho to Barca; Sanchez to Man City

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Barcelona will make an improved bid for Philippe Coutinho according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Real Madrid? ]

Liverpool have reportedly turned down a $93.9 million bid for the Brazilian playmaker but the Reds are said to be expecting an improved offer from the Spanish giants.

Coutinho, 25, only signed a new five-year contract with Liverpool in January but as he continues to score stunning goals on the way to leading Jurgen Klopp‘s men back to the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s biggest clubs have stepped up their interest in the diminutive playmaker.

Neymar, a close friend and Brazil teammate of Coutinho, may have a big say in this deal. If he leaves for Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record deal, Barca will obviously have plenty of cash to spend, but perhaps linking up Coutinho with Neymar at the Nou Camp will convince Brazil’s skipper to stay?

Coutinho’s record in recent seasons speaks for itself after he’s scored 26 goals in 79 PL appearances with many long-range beauties and curling, dipping free kicks among them. He has also added 12 assists over the past two seasons and he sets the tempo for Liverpool’s play in the attacking third. Coutinho would be a perfect replacement for Barca legend Andres Iniesta who is coming to the end of his career.

Klopp has already stated that he had a chat with Coutinho last week and insists he is not going anywhere. That said, Luis Suarez’s move to Barca in the summer of 2014 didn’t seem too likely either. Coutinho isn’t quite at a Suarez-esque level of importance for Liverpool yet, but we all know how that Barca pursuit ended.


The Independent claims Alexis Sanchez prefers a move to Manchester City.

With Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich all said to be offering Sanchez more than City in wages, it appears the Chilean forward would take less money to join Man City from Arsenal this summer.

Arsene Wenger has said multiple times that Sanchez will not be sold but with just one year left on his current deal can the Gunners really turn down a big offer from Man City if it came in?

Of course, Pep Guardiola‘s side being a main PL rival for Arsenal is the big spanner in the works of this deal but with Guardiola working with Sanchez at Barcelona in the past, the duo get along and Sanchez would obviously add even more dynamism to City’s ridiculously stacked forward line.

Where would he fit in at the Etihad Stadium? Well, that’s anybody guess but what we do know is that if you have Sanchez on your squad, he’s playing. The 28-year-old scored 24 goals and added 10 assists in the PL for Arsenal last season and City could slot him in to a fluid front three of Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, then have Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling around too.

Quite why City needs Sanchez is a mystery, but reports continue to state both parties are interested and Man City will surely challenge for the Champions League title, something Sanchez has stated he wants to do.