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De George: In draw with Red Bulls, Andrew Rick starts effort to save Union’s season

CHESTER — Just months into the job and still nowhere near old enough to buy a drink, Andrew Rick had the deflection part of his job down Saturday night.

On the field, for 90 minutes against the New York Red Bulls, the Union’s rookie Homegrown keeper of last resort batted away the five shots aimed at his goal in a 0-0 draw at Subaru Park. Off the field, he swatted away the credit directed toward his locker stall.

“I think they were all pretty routine,” Rick said in appraising his evening’s save. “But I’m happy I made them.”

Add one save to the pile that is anything but routine: Just maybe, Rick went a long way toward saving the Union’s season.

The five stops on his account may have been of common quality. But for a club that had conceded 18 goals in six games and that has enjoyed just four starts and only two full 90-minute outings this year from perennial All-Star Andre Blake, routine saves have become anything but a routine occurrence.

On a night when the Union (4-9-9, 21 points) hoped to stop the bleeding of a five-game losing streak, Rick was the first line of defense.

“Anytime you make an early save, I think that that gives you confidence and belief,” manager Jim Curtin said. “Are there things that he’s going to work with Phil (Wheddon, Union goalkeeping coach) and look at the film, work on some kicking and different things – there’s going to be learning moments for him all the time. But he made some big saves tonight that we needed. And it’s a clean sheet for a young goalkeeper, so that can only build confidence.”

Confidence is another commodity the Union have been desperately short of, especially on defense. They have – breathe deep – conceded first in 12 of 22 games, allowed 12 goals from outside the box and permitted multiple goals in 12 of the last 15 games. All that while conspiring to lose games to teams with nine men, teams down two goals with 10 minutes to play, teams that allow the Union stoppage-time equalizers and all manner of bad-soccer bingo squares. Their 18 goals conceded in six games have come on an expected goals tally of just 14.1.

So while a goalie like Blake blanking the Red Bulls on a July Saturday might not register as monumental in years’ past, Rick doing so for a beatdown defense on a 2.7 xG count for Red Bulls certainly is.

“He came up with three big saves, especially in the first half with the two breakaways,” defender Damion Lowe said. “He’s a kid that’s destined for greatness. And for us, we have to basically show him that we believe in him. He’s the rock behind us, and we’re the rock in front of him, and it goes hand in hand.”

Rick wasn’t called into action until the 23rd minute – mainly because Lewis Morgan let the Union off the hook on what should’ve been a goal in the third – when he rushed off his line to snuff a chance by Dante Vanzeir. He disrupted another breakaway in the first half, then produced flash saves on Cameron Harper in the 53rd minute and Dennis Gjengaar in the 88th.

Rick demurred that the shots hit his body more than anything he did special. For weeks, though, those same shots unfailingly hit the back of the net. That Rick stopped that trend offers hope of the Union arresting others.

Rick’s time in goal is likely to be brief from here on out. Signed May 4 after reaching the maximum of four call-ups as an emergency backup, the 6-2 Berwyn native made five saves behind a listless Union in a 2-0 loss to Charlotte in Chester and had a mess of a 4-2 loss to Montreal last weekend. After Oliver Semmle raised him with a worse outing in Chicago midweek, his inability to cope with crosses into the box finally becoming untenable, Curtin turned to the youngster. Finally, the team responded to that.

Curtin has repeatedly lamented publicly having to throw Rick into such a precarious position, backing a team missing regulars due to a rash of injuries and summer international absences. That same message has come through to the teenager, who has taken it in stride.

“Right now, that’s the situation,” Rick said. “Obviously, like I’m sure he said, it’d be great to make my debut with a full-strength Philadelphia Union. But if they trust me to step in now, then I’ll step in now and do my job as best as I can.”

Blake’s absence is nearing an end, likely to return to training this week, six weeks on from his May 28 meniscus surgery. Rick may still be needed for next week’s trip to Toronto. But without Rick, the lack of confidence could’ve snowballed further. It’s still one win in 16 (1-9-6) since mid-March. But with three winnable affairs before the Leagues Cup break, Blake’s return on the horizon and somehow just three points separating the Union from the last playoff spot in the East, it’s all left to play for.

As long as more guys start playing like Rick did Saturday.

“When I step on the field, I try not to do too much, because I think if you try to do too much and try to chase the game as a goalkeeper, it’s not going to pan out well for you,” he said. “So I trust my teammates, I let them defend, I let them attack and I do my job and try to give them as much confidence as possible.”

Contact Matthew De George at mdegeorge@delcotimes.com


Source: Berkshire mont

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