With starting keeper and now two-time MLS All-Star Andre Blake away on international duty with Jamaica, the 20-year old homegrown signing Matt Freese continues to make the most of his opportunities in net for Philadelphia.
Add another homegrown signing who bring undeniable positive impacts to the list for Philadelphia Union. Matt Freese, who signed his first professional contract with the club he’s supported since a toddler back in December, will try to remain a steady presence in net with Andre Blake to miss at least two more matches.
But despite Blake’s absence, the two keepers have stayed in touch via text message. “Andre [Blake] has helped me a lot,” Freese said. “He’s been texting me advice so I’m really thankful for him being there and supporting me and helping me through. He’s been giving me some tips and also just checking in and seeing how I’m doing and telling me not to stress too much.”
Freese spoke with PSN yesterday afternoon and discussed the match against an Eastern Conference rival in NYCFC as well as his journey from fighting for a spot on the matchday 18 to spot starter in Blake’s absence.
“It wasn’t something that I necessarily planned on when I came in for pre-season. But it was something that I was looking to prepare for if it happened. At the end of the day, that’s what all the hard work is for, to progress upwards,” Freese said. “It wasn’t a huge change in terms of getting more time but it’s definitely a small adjustment.”
So far in 2019, Freese started 3 times but played a full 90-minute match just twice. Back on May 1st, Freese made his first career home start at Talen Energy Stadium but exited in the 41st minute after suffering a minor abdominal tear. His abdomen has since healed and he most recently helped Philadelphia earn a crucial road point at New England Revolution making two acrobatic saves – one from less than 10-yards out.
Saturday night may be a different animal however. Playing at Yankee Stadium in front of a hostile NYCFC fans – those same fans that are known for snatching away supporters scarves and running off (clowns) – could reasonably play a factor in the match-up. But Freese isn’t worried about that. He’s more focused on winning.
“I’m definitely looking forward to playing [NYCFC]. It’s another top team in the East and it’ll be a great challenge for us,” said Freese. “It’s another opportunity to prove how good we are.”
A casual observer may assume a 20-year old MLS rookie may struggle with transitioning from back-up to starter. But not every rookie goalkeeper has Oka Nikolov on their technical staff or Blake ahead of them in the depth chart to learn from.
Nikolov, who joined the Union as Assistant Coach and Director of Goalkeeping just three weeks prior to Freese inking his deal, has been instrumental in helping provide a steady pathway to the pros for not only Freese but Academy standout Tomas Romero as well. Romero recently earned his first clean-sheet of 2019 last night by the way.
“[Nikolov] obviously very much transformed my game within the first month of being here. I went to a college level goalkeeper to now obviously now getting time but also just being rostered for games,” said Freese. “He has been the biggest catalyst behind that I’d say.”
Both Blake and Nikolov along with the competition from fellow keeper Carlos Coronel, have helped Freese’s mindset in training as well. “In every training session I was trying to act as much as I could as if it were a game so that now when I am getting the time it’s not a huge change,” said Freese.
Freese will hope to continue avoiding critical mistakes on the road once more at NYCFC. It will prove to be a monstrous task for Philadelphia to earn a victory but a road result is ultimately the goal. NYCFC haven’t lost since March 29th. That’s 93 days without a loss. Another note, that March 29th lost is their only L so far.
Look for Philadelphia to play spoiler as they have a precious opportunity to snap NYCFC’s 12-match unbeaten streak Saturday at 7PM.
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Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports