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Back from U-20 World Cup, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real ready to help Philadelphia Union remain in first

Mark McKenzie and Matt Real didn’t play as much as they hoped, but being at the U-20 World Cup is an experience they hope to use in the second half of the MLS season.

Jun 8, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie (4) in action against the Toronto FC at Talen Energy Stadium. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union defenders Mark McKenzie and Matt Real didn’t have much time to reflect back on the U-20 World Cup before they were thrown on to the field two weeks ago in the U.S. Open Cup fourth round against D.C. United

After the hectic 120-minute affair, which resulted in the Union dropping out of the competition, McKenzie and Real set their focus on breaking into the starting XI during the club’s stretch of four games during the span of two weeks that starts Wednesday against New England

“We have such a compact schedule in the next month,” Real said. “Anything can happen. It happened a couple months ago when Kai (Wagner) got a red card. I had a chance to go in and Fabinho was also ready. The little things — staying focused in training, doing the things I need to do off the field to keep my body healthy. In case anyone has to deal with an injury, I’m ready to hop on.” 

Mar 31, 2018; Commerce City, CO, USA; Philadelphia Union defender Matthew Real (32) controls the ball in the second half against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

“Guys will go down, guys will get called up,” McKenzie said. “There’s a bunch of things that could happen. Being able to show our depth in a high intensity game against D.C. on the road puts confidence in the staff and shows them that whoever is on the field is going to give them 100 percent and has quality to do what they’re asked to do and do whatever they can to help the team succeed.” 

McKenzie and Real didn’t play as much as expected for the United States at the U-20 World Cup because other defenders were in better form. 

McKenzie, who was recovering from appendicitis in the buildup to the tournament, lost out to Aboubacar Keita in the center back spot next to Chris Richards. 

“Ultimately, you put the group first,” McKenzie said. “You want to see the team succeed. Jim [Curtin] says it all the time. When the group succeeds, individual accolades will come along. We were winning game and playing well so it just showed how deep we actually were.” 

Even though he didn’t play as much as he wanted to, McKenzie made an important step forward in fitness. After his appearance against Qatar in the group stage, the homegrown center back admitted he felt back to 100 percent after dealing with a long list of issues in the first half of the MLS season. 

“Physically I’m back to 100 percent,” McKenzie said.

“You never really know until you’re on the field,” McKenzie said. “After playing against Qatar, that’s when I really knew I was back. At that point, it was just trying to find my way into the group. We put together some good performances so you don’t change something that’s not broken. We had a good run. I felt good coming out of the tournament and being able to play against D.C. was good for me.” 

May 30, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie (4) in action against the Chicago Fire at Talen Energy Stadium. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Real was stuck behind Chris Gloster on the left back depth chart. While playing center back during parts of the Concacaf U-20 Championship, Real saw how well Gloster was playing. 

“During qualifying, I was playing center back part of the time covering for Mark until he came back,” Real said. “Credit to Chris Gloster, he was doing excellent while I was playing center back, so he got the spot from the start of the tournament and he did an excellent job. All credit to him. I was just staying ready. We had training sessions the day after the game keeping the guys who didn’t play fit.”

Even though the players could have returned from Poland disappointed with the lack of playing time, both came back to Philadelphia happy for the U-20 World Cup experience and ready to help out during the second half of the MLS campaign. 

“There was not one ounce of me that was disappointed in any way,” Real said. “I was ecstatic for the team and the success we had during that run.” 

“Now we go into this next half of the season feeling good,” McKenzie said. “Not too high though and ready to keep competing and keep that first place position.”

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