There are plenty of ways to deal with the pressure of a high-stakes penalty shootout but laughing your way through the stress? That's a new one for us.
That was Jim Curtin's coping mechanism as the Philadelphia Union went toe-to-toe (or kick-for-kick) with Nashville SC on Sunday night for the right to play in the MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference final.
Unable to watch, Curtin could only laugh at the reaction of the supporters as his players extended their eventual 4-0 shootout lead over Nashville.
"We've had some tough penalty kick shootouts here in Union history, but this one, every kick that they took I was almost laughing to myself just when I went off the reaction of the fans, it was nonstop, them going crazy,” Curtin told reporters after the match (via MLSsoccer.com). “It just felt like as they missed one, then they missed two. You almost knew the third and fourth were going to be a miss because it built so much pressure.
“And that's where home-field advantage does come in, shooting in front of the river end isn't easy. By Andre making the first save, it really puts the pressure on their group.”
As Curtin points out, Andre Blake saving Hany Mukhtar's penalty right off the bat piled the pressure onto Nashville. But the Jamaica international didn't stop there, keeping out Anibal Godoy's second effort, and who knows what influence he had on Alex Muyl and Walker Zimmerman blazing their attempts off target? Blake perfectly set the stage for Jack Elliott and Jack McGlynn to deliver a 2-0 shootout win, with Sergio Santos let off the hook for his miss.
“I knew that first save would have been very big,” Blake said. “That kind of gave me some momentum, gave my teammates some confidence, and definitely put the opposite team under some pressure. That was a very crucial save and making the second one, I think after that they were really nervous and didn't know what to do.”
Blake has been with the Union his entire professional career, joining in 2014 and making almost 200 appearances across all competitions. He's seen the club transform during that time and is "honored" to help write a new chapter in its history.
“I've been at the club for eight years, going onto nine,” the 31-year-old said. “I've been here since we would struggle to make the playoffs. So this club has really come a long way and this new group of guys over the last three, four years have been doing a fantastic job.
“We've taken this club to the next level and the fans appreciate it and we're starting to write some new history and starting to put this club in the mix when you talk about the best teams in MLS. So for us, we're humbled, we're honored. But we don't mind staying the underdogs, to be honest, and just go about our business and just keep winning games and be a team that nobody talks about but a team that's very successful.”
With their first ever appearance in the Eastern Conference final now secured, the Union await the winners of Tuesday night's clash between Supporters' Shield winners New England Revolution and NYCFC.