Don Garber, Andre Blake

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.”

After January camp, USMNT looks to rosters for World Cup, Olympic qualifying

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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The United States men’s national team finished its experimental January camp with a 2-0 record, and now trains its eyes on World Cup and Olympic qualifying.

The last part is critical not just because of the ramifications of a potential second-successive Olympic absence for the men’s U-23 side.

[ USMNT: Tops Iceland 3-2 | Knocks off Canada, too ]

The Yanks have to deftly divide their player pool because March 25 and 29 are not only the dates for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches — a home-and-home series with Guatemala — but also the dates for the U-23s’ pair of matches with Colombia.

That’s why Jordan Morris isn’t likely headed to Guatemala City, and the same is true for impressive January camper Jerome Kiesewetter and new Chelsea defender Matt Miazga.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

Bobby Wood, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also eligible for the U-23s, but there’s the rub. All three are in good form for country, and only Yedlin isn’t playing well for his club (That’s because Sam Allardyce isn’t using him much at all. His substitute appearance against Liverpool was his first action since Jan. 9).

New England midfielder Lee Nguyen impressed Jurgen Klinsmann during January camp, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of Steve Birnbaum’s goal and assist.

Assuming health, here’s our best guess at who’s making the squad for Guatemala on March 25 and 29. It’s worth noting that six MLS clubs play on March 26 (NYC, New England, Vancouver, Houston, DC and Dallas):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Jonathan Spector, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.