Coming off short rest and playing their third game in seven days, Philadelphia Union interim manager Jim Curtin made some changes to the starting XI. Among them, goalkeeper Andre Blake and midfielder Pedro Ribeiro made their MLS debuts. Philadelphia fell 2-0 to the Houston Dynamo due to an overall tired Union squad and a Houston offense that found their spark behind Brad Davis’ game-winning goal.
Let’s evaluate how both Blake and Ribeiro fared in their respective debuts.
Despite a promising young goalkeeper in Zac MacMath already on the roster, the Philadelphia Union drafted Blake with the first overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. This move left people wondering if MacMath was going to be traded before the season or if Blake would jump MacMath on the depth chart. Currently, neither of those have happened.
Previously, Blake saw action in 2014 US Open Cup play and the Union’s June friendly against EPL side Crystal Palace. On Friday, Curtin surprisingly inserted Blake into the starting XI. This move came after MacMath lead the Union through to the US Open Cup final and past FC Dallas in penalty kicks. During regulation, MacMath was forced to make three saves on 1v1 opportunities.
It’s possible Blake started Friday to give MacMath a needed game off. At the same time, MacMath’s last start in a Union jersey could have come Tuesday against FC Dallas. Rais M’Bohli is set to join the Union this week after taking care of some businesses away from the field.
In Friday’s game, Blake showed why the Union traded up two spots and drafted him No. 1 overall – he’s talented. Yet, his talent is raw. He’s a young rookie keeper after all.
Overall, Blake impressed at times, while he showed his youth and inexperience at other times. His double save against Dynamo Will Bruin arguably showed how talented Blake truly is. Even though he showed his talent, Blake should start over MacMath or M’Bohli. Both MacMath and M’Bohli are more experienced and there talent is not raw, but rather have developed their talent.
In the end, Blake has potential but he’s a young keeper. The Union would be wise to keep him on the roster as a back-up or even loan him down to their USL-Pro affiliates Harrisburg City Islanders.
Unlike Blake, Ribeiro has spent most his 2014 on the City Islanders’ roster on loan. His return to the Union’s roster was expected as Curtin said last week the Union would be flying in some reinforcements. It was not surprising to see Ribeiro among the starting XI. However, Curtin’s decision to insert Ribeiro as a forward up top left many scratching their heads.
Ribeiro is not a No. 9 naturally and it showed Friday. His natural position is in the midfield behind the attackers up front. In his time with Harrisburg, he found time as a center back due to injuries and did decently there. As a midfielder with Harrisburg, he’s been key part to their attack. At the same time, he’s able to drop back and play an effective defensive role when the team is leading.
Due to Curtin’s decision to play him outside his natural position, it’s hard to bash Ribeiro for not creating more effective attack. It would be nice to see Ribeiro within the Union midfield and feeding the Union’s forwards up top and on the wing.
At the same time, Ribeiro’s play Friday was not all negative. He controlled the ball well and maintain possession for the most part and showed his ability to create chances even if not in his natural position.
His play with Harrisburg earned him a chance to prove himself as a Union starter even if just for one game. It would be nice to see Curtin play his players , like Ribeiro, in a more natural position, so that we can truly see what they bring to the Union.
All in all, Blake and Ribeiro showed potential and promise as young MLS players. The future looks bright for both, however, I don’t see either becoming consistent starters anytime soon. Yet, it’s hard to predict their future and success in the league based off of one game.