[MLS ROOKIE CLASS: Ten to Watch] Andre Blake, who drew rave reviews on Day 1 of the adidas MLS Player Combine in Lauderhill, Fla., is the rare keeper who could crack the top five among MLS SuperDraft picks. Since early in his sophomore season, Ray Reid, his coach at Connecticut, has been saying the Jamaican is the best goalie in college soccer. Indeed, the junior ranks as one of the most dominating keepers in the history of college soccer.
MLS Rookie Class: Ten to Watch
1. Jordan Allen (Univ. of Virginia-signed with Real Salt Lake)
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2. Steve Birnbaum (Univ. of California)
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3. Marlon Hairston (Univ. of Louisville)
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4. Christian Dean (Univ. of California)
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5. Pedro Ribeiro (Coastal Carolina Univ.)
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6. Andre Blake(Univ. of Connecticut)
The 6-foot-4 Blake was already 20 when he enrolled at UConn, having played for Sporting Central Academy in the Jamaican National Premier League after graduating from high school at Clarendon College, and he immediately established himself as a star, running off a string of nine straight shutouts early in his freshman season.
Blake finished his college career with 37 shutouts in 68 games and was selected an All-American all three seasons with the Huskies. Perhaps his greatest feat came at the end of the 2013 season when over the span of four games UConn played in three shootouts and Blake stopped seven penalty kicks, including two to knock off No. 1 seed UCLA on the road.
Most MLS teams are set in goal -- several traded for keepers in December -- but Blake is a rare talent. MLS goalies rarely go high in the draft. In the first college draft, held in 1996, UCLA keeper Chris Snitko (32 games in five MLS seasons) went to Tampa Bay with the No. 5 pick, but the three Bruin keepers who followed him to the pros -- all future MLS stars -- didn't go until the third round: Kevin Hartman in 1997, Matt Reis in 1998 and Nick Rimando, the fifth of five UCLA players to be picked in a class that included Carlos Bocanegra and Pete Vagenas, in 2000.
Blake has already been tipped as the Jamaican national team keeper of the future after the retirement of Donovan Ricketts -- he joined the Reggae Boyz in camp before the June 2013 qualifiers -- but he is not getting ahead of himself. Just as he did not get ahead of himself when pro offers came his way out of high school in Clarendon Parish, which he says produces more soccer stars than track stars, he isn't about to anoint himself as an MLS starter.
"My first goal is to try to be in a team, compete and win a starting job," Blake told the Jamaica Star on the eve of the Combine. "I just tell myself wherever I get drafted I'll go and do my best."
MLS SuperDraft, College Goalies (Top 5 Picks)
1996 Tampa Bay-Chris Snitko (UCLA) #5
2000 Colorado-Adin Brown (William & Mary) #3
2005 Chivas USA-Brad Guzan (South Carolina) #2
2007 Chris Seitz-Real Salt Lake (Maryland) #4
2011 Zac MacMath-Philadelphia (Maryland) #5