Three years ago, Philadelphia Union centerbacks Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie were part of a talented academy team that went to the semifinals of the development academy playoffs.
On Tuesday, Trusty and McKenzie headline a four-player delegation of Union players participating in the Major League Soccer Homegrown Game against Tigres UANL’s under-20 side.
“I think back to when we had that semifinal run in the national championship back when we were 16, that was kind of a preview of what was to come,” McKenzie said. “You’re playing for a trophy then, and now you look here and we’re in the Open Cup. It feels like it’s come full circle.”
Trusty and McKenzie, both 19, will be on the roster alongside teammates Matthew Real and Anthony Fontana.
“We’re all looking forward to it because we all get to be together and have a good time and also be able to play for MLS and represent MLS,” Trusty said. “All four of us being there and being the most in Homegrown Game history shows what we’re working on here. And how it’s performing.”
McKenzie and Trusty are two of the most experienced MLS players taking part in Tuesday’s contest in Atlanta, and they’ve taken different paths to reach this point.
Trusty, who started each of the Union’s 21 games, was signed as a Homegrown in 2016, while McKenzie, who appeared in 14 contests in 2018, inked a deal with the club in January after spending a season at Wake Forest.
“Everybody has different paths, so I ultimately went to college, and I was thankful for that opportunity, but then I felt it was time to come back and work something out with the club. I’m extremely grateful and thankful for that,” McKenzie said.
Although he was down in Winston-Salem, N.C., during college, McKenzie still kept tabs on the achievements of his teammates.
“Of course you keep in contact with these guys,” McKenzie said. “You spend so much time together, you travel together, you play together so you see them post pictures online or they FaceTime, or whatever. Or when you’re back home, you’re with everybody and get together. It’s just always keeping in contact and staying close because you never know where you’re going to end up.”
For Trusty, seeing each of his academy teammates sign since he officially joined the Union has brought a smile to his face.
“Even when Fontana signed, it was awesome then,” Trusty said. “Then Matt (Real) signed, then (McKenzie) signed. Before that it was me and Derrick Jones and a bunch of old guys and no one else we could really relate to. I’m happy having them there because it brings a whole different aspect having people my age in the same kind of environment I’m in as well as the older guys.”
While it would be easy for both players to pay attention to the praise they’ve received throughout the season, with McKenzie garnering attention ahead of U-20 World Cup qualifying, the centerbacks are more worried about focusing on improving their respective games.
“For me, I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff,” Trusty said. “I just do me and live my life, but I really don’t pay attention to anything on that. I’ll post some stuff on social media, but other than that, I won’t look at too much. It’s just not what I do.”
“Of course you see it online,” McKenzie said. “I’m big on social media, but I don’t really read much of the stuff that’s posted. Again, you see it, but you try to pay too much mind to it. What happens on the field is what defines your position. It’s just a matter of producing and putting together good performances on a consistent basis and helping the club in any way possible.”
Although reaching the first team at an MLS club is an arduous task, the pair has succeeded because of its hard work ethic, which can be passed down to not only players in the Union academy, but other players it comes across in its travels.
“Taking advantage of it is definitely the key to it all,” McKenzie said. “You’re all given an opportunity in the academy and put in the right position and it’s up to you at the end of the day to take it. Auston came first and he ran with the opportunity and look where he is now. I came a little bit later, but it’s just a matter of understanding where you’re at and constantly progressing.”