CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union’s Homegrown center backs have some work to do to get back into the starting lineup.
On Wednesday, Union manager Jim Curtin confirmed Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie are fighting for a spot on the bench in the club’s matchday squad after Aurelien Collin took hold of the starting spot next to Jack Elliott in the last two matches.
“Right now, (Mark) and Auston are competing for that spot on the bench,” Curtin said. “Collin has stepped up and solidified things in two big games and has communicated well.”
The 33-year-old Frenchman earned the start following a strong U.S. Open Cup showing against D.C. and a dip in form experienced by Trusty.
“We’re going to need all four of them down the stretch here,” Curtin said. “It’ll be depending on the matchup. Certain teams bring certain characteristics. Certain teams sit back, certain teams will have a lot of speed and a lot possession on the ball. We’re confident in all four of our center backs. We’ll find the right pairing down the stretch here and I think these last games will tell a lot. Right now, Collin has grabbed a hold of it.”
Trusty has made 22 starts for the Union, but he went through a rough patch before being benched. The 21-year-old defender made some mistakes in a pair of 4-0 defeats to Real Salt Lake and the Montreal Impact and has lacked a bit of confidence in certain moments.
“I think it’s still learning lessons for Auston because he did have such a great start to the year, but he had a dip in form and that happens with all young players,” Curtin said. “Now, part of development is still struggling and how do you overcome struggling and maybe having a down time. You learn from every game.”
McKenzie has seen the field for 12 minutes in MLS play in 2019 after establishing himself as a starter for long stretches in 2018, including the last month of the regular season.
Center backs playing their way into the lineup is nothing new for the Union under Curtin, a former center back with the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA.
In the final five regular-season games of 2018 and the playoff loss to New York City FC, Curtin relied on Trusty and McKenzie at the back while benching Elliott.
In 2017, Elliott grabbed hold of a starting position in April and started the rest of the campaign and Oguchi Onyewu came into preseason as a trialist and impressed enough to appear in 22 games for the Union.
“Jack’s done it at some point, Mark’s done it at some point. Auston’s done it. Collin’s done it in his career,” Curtin said. “Again, I still say we have the best four center backs in MLS. Just so happens they all can’t be in the 18 and they all can’t play every game. It’s a hard choice.”
On a few instances Wednesday, Curtin expressed faith in his collection of center backs and continued to say he has confidence in all four at what he believes is a “down position” across MLS.
“All four of those guys I have full confidence in,” Curtin said. “They’ve had a good week of training so far, so it’ll make for some tough decisions.”
“It’s rare that you have four that are starting caliber in our league,” Curtin said. “It’s a down position in our league if you look across it. A lot of teams would die for some of the talent we have at center back. It’s a good problem to have, but again, they’re all not going to be happy with me when I put the team sheet forward. That’s the reality of things.”