Mar 3, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union forward C.J. Sapong (17) reacts after scoring goal against the New England Revolution during the second half at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Fontana got the biggest spotlight in the Union’s season-opening 2-0 win over the New England Revolution, and understandably so. Goals pay the bills in soccer, and Fontana not only scored, but scored in his first Union game.
But the best player of the night might have been the Union’s other homegrown debutant, Auston Trusty. The 19-year-old centerback was an imposing force. He won a series of one-on-one battles with Revolution star striker Juan Agudelo in the first half, then delivered a quietly solid performance in the second half.
Trusty’s signature moment of the night came in the 21st minute, when he chased down Agudelo and made an inch-perfect, goal-saving tackle from behind. It could easily have been whistled as a foul, which would have given the Revs a penalty kick and given Trusty an ejection. But referee Rubiel Vasquez left his whistle alone, having seen that Trusty poked the ball away just before both players crashed to the ground.
The play required almost every inch of Trusty’s 6-foot-4 frame to be perfectly placed, and required a big tank of energy and athleticism. He brought the full package to the moment, and the night as a whole.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if Trusty had been a bit nervous in the game’s early stages. That he wasn’t is a testament not only to the Union’s player development system, but also the Media native’s many years of experience with U.S. youth national teams. Those games put him in pressure situations from an early age.
In 2015, he played at the Under-17 World Cup and drew a red card for a foul late in the Americans’ tournament-opening loss to Nigeria. Last year, he was on the squad at the Under-20 World Cup and scored a goal in the U.S.’ round of 16 win over New Zealand.
“It helps tremendously, because if I didn’t have that, I could see nerves really setting in,” Trusty said Saturday night. “But since I’ve been in that environment and through all of that stuff, it’s just another game.”
That last remark might have been a little too gracious. He knew full well how big a deal the game was, and his performance in it.
“It felt amazing and was very humbling — especially growing up as a young kid in Philadelphia and being able to go out on this field, because I remember back in the day, I used to buy tickets to go see this team play,” he said. “Dreaming about this opportunity and this day as a young kid, visualizing at the games that I could someday be here and playing on this field and starting.”
He knew the moment could have come sooner.
The Union signed Trusty to an MLS contract in August 2016, but he didn’t play a minute in official games until this year. Manager Jim Curtin preferred to keep Trusty in the minors at Bethlehem Steel so he could get lots of playing time instead of riding the Union’s bench.
The move paid off. When the Union started preseason training, Curtin was ready to give Trusty the proverbial keys to the car. Trusty showed in preseason games that he was up to the task, and Curtin officially turned him loose on Saturday.
“It means a lot, but it’s also the challenge the coach put me up to and our organization put me up to and they believed I could do it,” Trusty said.
If there was one disclaimer on the night, it’s that New England is one of the worst teams in MLS. The challenges will get tougher from here, starting with Columbus speedster Gyasi Zardes and playmaker Federico Higuaín on March 17 at Talen Energy Stadium.
For now, there’s still some time to celebrate Trusty’s inaugural star turn. Everyone who has watched his rise up the ranks is welcome at the party.