Expansion 2020

A Between the Posts Perspective: Mark Pais, Paul Blanchette Anchor Respective Sides in NPSL National Championship

By Daniel Cermak/NPSL.com

With the NPSL National Championship looming, each side’s goalkeepers are going to be relied
upon to keep their teams in the game and come up big when the moment calls for it. That
challenge is something both are looking forward to.

“It’s going to be a great game, going to be exciting, good crowd, good teams,” New York
Cosmos B goalkeeper Paul Blanchette said.“I mean it’s a final, there’s nothing more to say.”

“I think it’s a culmination of events really,” Miami FC goalkeeper Mark Pais said. “We’ve been
here as a team since February. We’ve learned a lot, grown a lot over these five or six months,
it’s all of our hard work and preparation coming down to one game, and I think we’re ready for
the challenge.”

New York Cosmos B reached the NPSL National Championship final giving up only one goal
after taking down cross-state rivals Brooklyn Italians 1-0, FC Baltimore 3-1, and then finally
ASC San Diego by a 2-0 scoreline. For Cosmos goalkeeper Paul Blanchette, the Cosmos
sticking to what earned them a #1 seed has been the key to their stellar postseason run.

“It’s consistency, it started at the beginning of the year,” Blanchette said. “We created this great
mindset, this great environment, all working towards this goal of an NPSL championship, and
now it’s time.”

Reaching the NPSL National Championship with Cosmos B has been a proud achievement for
Blanchette, but he’s trying to focus on not being satisfied just making the championship.

“Sometimes I have to take a step back and say ‘whoa, I’m playing for the Cosmos,’” Blanchette
said. “(For the final), though, we just have to keep doing what we do.”

Miami FC goalkeeper Mark Pais has helped his squad through a season that saw them record just
one loss while giving up just five goals. The defending champions returned to the championship
after defeating Jacksonville Armada U-23 4-0, crosstown rivals Miami United FC 3-2,
Chattanooga FC 2-0, Tulsa Athletic 4-1, and finally reached the championship after a 4-1 victory
over Cleveland SC.

For Pais, much like Blanchette, it’s making small tweaks while maintaining the overall game
plan that has been the key for Miami FC.

“I think it’s mainly been sticking to our identity, playing the way we are confident playing and
being up to the task to adjusting to each team we are playing,” Pais said. “Each team (in the
playoffs) has brought specific challenges that we’ve had to adjust to and the coaching staff has
done a great job making sure that we make the adjustments.”

For Pais, there’s no pressure in pursuing a repeat, there is just an expectation.

“I wouldn’t say it’s pressure at all, I think the key word is expectation,” Pais said. “When you
put on that jersey, you learn it pretty quickly when you get here, there’s an expectation for
winning. I don’t think it puts pressure on anybody, I think everybody thrives under that
expectation to win.”

The key for Pais between the posts and for Miami FC as a whole, they have to focus on not
letting the hostile environment rattle them and stick to their style.

“You have to adapt to the environment first and foremost,” Pais said. “But then knowing that
they’ve been really good defensively it’s been hard to break them down and score on them, and
our special players will have to come out and have a good night, on the other side of that coin,
defensively we’re going to have to be as good as we’ve been all year.”

When a final is in play between two tightly matched teams and goalkeepers, penalty kicks are
always in the background, looming. Not only are Pais and Blanchette ready for the challenge
should it arise, they would embrace it.

“Penalties are always such a random event, especially as a keeper,” Pais said with a laugh. “If it
comes, it comes, you have to deal with it, but (during the game) I just want to focus on keeping
our guys organized.”

“All the pressure is on them,” Blanchette said. “I’m a big guy, so if I end up going the right way
it’s not easy to score, and it’s gonna be (after) 120 minutes, their legs are tired, but I’m fine, so
good luck.”

With a pair of stellar keepers whose teams have given up a total of 14 goals over a combined 28
games, it is going to take a special piece of attacking play to take home the NPSL National
Championship.

Photo Credit: Matthew Levine/New York Cosmos and Orovio Photography

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