CHESTER, PA– Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin found himself in a peculiar situation last Friday when he prepared to send Homegrown centerback Mark McKenzie on the pitch for his Major League Soccer debut.
Curtin called fellow Homegrown centerback Auston Trusty over — as the experienced centerback on the field — to deliver some words of advice to McKenzie. Trusty has played every minute of the 2018 campaign, but he’s only a teenager.
“When Mark comes into the game, I called Auston quickly over and I’m telling him Mark is going to be nervous and get him a few easy touches, and I’m looking at myself telling Auston to calm things down when he’s a 19-year-old,” Curtin said.
The Union could start as many as three Homegrowns on their back line for Saturday’s trip to FC Dallas, as McKenzie and Trusty prepare to start together since Jack Elliott is day-to-day and Matt Real is holding down the left back position as Fabinho works his way back to full fitness.
Although the Union aren’t close to the number of Homegrown signings FC Dallas has made in recent years, they’re making a massive leap in the right direction.
“I think it’s fair to say Dallas was probably the first to really do it and have double-digit Homegrowns,” Curtin said. “You look at their roster now and it’s filled with Homegrown players. Oscar deserves a lot of credit for giving them minutes, when you think about Kellyn Acosta or Ulloa in there, Cannon is playing outside back. They have a bunch of Homegrowns that are not just on the field, but getting minutes. It’s something that you compare and you do recognize they’ve been at it significantly longer than our academy has.”
For players in the middle of the process, the moment isn’t too big for them. They’ve played together through the Union academy, earned some USL minutes and even have experience on the international level, where they’ve played alongside some of FC Dallas’ Homegrowns like Paxton Pomykal and Reggie Cannon.
When it comes to the centerback pairing of Trusty and McKenzie, the chemistry comes naturally, and it showed in the second half against Orlando City.
“When Mark came in I told him it’s just back to the old days and the two of us doing our thing,” Trusty said. “The chemistry is there if Jack goes down in a game and Mark comes in. That’s the point of the whole entire thing. The chemistry is already there and Matt being on the other side, the chemistry is there as well.”
Trusty has been the standout star of the group. He hasn’t put a foot wrong in five games, leading to Curtin praising him specifically during Wednesday’s press conference.
“Auston Trusty has probably been our best defender,” Curtin said.
But earning praise from the manager is just another step for Trusty and the back line.
“It’s truly humbling. It’s everything we all worked for and dreamed for,” Trusty said. “We want to keep on going and pushing. Not live in the moment, actually accept it and get better as a pro every day.”
While the Union aren’t on the same level as FC Dallas and other clubs, such as the New York Red Bulls, in the quantity of Homegrowns produced so far, they’ve certainly proved the quality is there and it’s going to make an impact on MLS.
“We want to achieve the world,” Trusty said. “We keep pushing every single day. My mindset is to get better every single day and hope for the best and do me and do my job.”