Real Monarchs captain Jack Blake has had anything but a conventional career path.
At 8 years old, Blake began playing in the Nottingham Forest academy. At 17, he made the jump to their first team where he played two seasons before suffering a severe leg injury.
This is where Blake’s path deviates from the typical path-to-professional story.
In 2016, Blake’s contract with Nottingham Forest expired, and he found himself in need of a new club. With his boots packed and no idea what was to come next, Blake moved to the United States to see what he could do in American soccer.
Before 2016, Blake hadn’t lived in the United States, but his grandparents lived in Phoenix, and he had spent parts of his childhood with them. When looking for a new opportunity, Blake recognized the progress that American soccer made, and he found the market attractive.
Blake opted to move to Phoenix, where he temporarily lived with his grandparents and began blindly reaching out to clubs.
The first team to give him a trial was Orange County Blues, then playing in USL. That’s when his status as an international player first became an issue: Teams are only allotted so many international player spots, so Orange County was unable to offer him a contract.
In 2016, Blake went on trial with Minnesota United FC and earned a contract. This was their final season as a USL team though, as they were awarded an MLS franchise and began playing in MLS in 2017. Due to his lack of a green card, Blake didn’t make the jump to MLS with them, because international spots are even more highly valued.
Blake is currently in the final stages of acquiring his green card, though, and he’s expecting to have it by the end of the 2020 season. Blake anticipates it helping him get a chance with an MLS team.
After Minnesota’s 2016 season, Blake signed with the Jacksonville Armada of the NASL for the 2017 season. Blake, just 23 years old, went on to become the NASL Young Player of the Year, recording nine goals and four assists for the Armada.
In the offseason between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Blake had a decision to make. He had an offer to go play in Tampa with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and there was interest in Salt Lake with Real Monarchs.
Blake opted, at the time, to play for Tampa Bay. This was in part due to their willingness to fund his green card. Additionally, his wife was pregnant with their son, and a move to Tampa would be easier on his family.
”At the time, it was more convenient to move from Jacksonville to Tampa rather than to fly across the states and completely move,” he said.
It was during his time in Tampa that Blake’s personal YouTube channel took off. He started the channel in 2017 and began regularly posting in 2018. He posts a variety of videos all surrounding what it is like to be a professional footballer.
Whether it’s a day in the life of a footballer, the meals he eats or ways to train properly, he covers any and all questions people have about his profession.
“I wanted to utilize the spare time that I had to sort of give back to the community,” he said. “I wanted to give people information and a bit of an insight into the life of a pro and how sometimes it’s not always easy.
Blake played for Tampa for about half a season before he his minutes became more limited and was looking for an option elsewhere. Knowing he had previous interest from Real Monarchs, Blake and his agent reached out to see if it was a possibility.
Things fell into place between the two clubs, and Blake was loaned to Salt Lake for the remainder of the 2018 season.
After a successful half-year with the Monarchs, Blake was offered an option to stay with the team in 2019.
In addition to returning to Real Monarchs for 2019, Blake was also given the captain’s armband. Although he was just 24 years old, Blake had a lot of experience and was a veteran on the team.
RSL center back and rookie Erik Holt, who spent much of the season playing for Real Monarchs, said Blake’s and other veterans’ presences helped their team to buy into the system the Monarchs were trying to build.
“During the year not everyone is playing, so it’s hard to manage 20 guys or so,” Holt said. “For us, we had to create a competitive environment at training, which Jack and a lot of the older guys helped instill.”
This competitive nature, that was prevalent even in training, is what ultimately led the Monarchs to becoming the 2019 USL Championship winners.
At the end of 2019 Blake was out of contract with the Real Monarchs, though. There was initially some uncertainty over his return, but the club eventually announced that Blake would be returning in 2020.
Blake said he was eager to stay in Utah.
“The people that work here, the players, the staff (are) very professional, and last year was one of the most enjoyable years I’ve had in my professional career so far — and I’ve had 8 years.”