The Philadelphia Union have rewarded one of their top defenders with a new contract.
The club announced on Wednesday it signed center back Jack Elliott to a contract extension that keeps him under contract until the 2021 season. There is a club option for the 2022 season.
“I’m very happy and delighted to have a chance to play for this team for the next few years and continue the hard work we’ve done already,” Elliott said at training on Wednesday.
“I’m really happy for him,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “He’s a true underdog and a guy that has fought for everything that he’s got and he was rewarded for having such a great couple years.”
Elliott’s extension was first reported by The Athletic on Tuesday.
The 23-year-old has turned himself into one of the unlikeliest success stories in Major League Soccer after he was drafted 77th overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.
“I can remember when Jack was drafted,” Curtin said. “The reality is not a ton is expected of a draft pick that is taken that late. The reality is a majority of those guys don’t make rosters in MLS, but they don’t play soccer much longer. What he’s been able to achieve is a testament to the work he’s been able to put in. He’s always believed in himself. He’s been told no a couple times. That’s how he wound up at West Virginia.”
“He pushed through in the hard moments,” Curtin said. “Some players peak at age 12. Some players peak much later on in life so the message there is to stick with things. If you can play the game, it’s the most honest game that there is, it tells the truth and it rewards people who put a lot into it. Jack has put a lot into in.
Part of Elliott’s evolution has been refining his skills as a defender, including the one-on-one aspect which he believes he’s improved on in each of his three seasons with the club.
“I would say my defending has gotten better since I started playing,” Elliott said. “Specifically, 1v1. I don’t like to get myself in too many 1v1 situations and try to play the game in a way that I can avoid them. When I get in them, I’m a lot more confident that I can come out with the ball and be successful there.”
“He’s evolved in front of our eyes,” Curtin said. “He’s evolved in front of the fans’ eyes on our stadium field to a guy that was probably a little anxious and nervous going against David Villa and Giovinco a couple years back and now is a guy you pencil into the lineup. He just does his job every night and does it at a really high level.”
Sporting director Ernst Tanner noticed the same improvements in the Englishman since he took over last fall.
“Jack is really evolving and improving,” Tanner said. “He’s like a modern center back should be. He has great skills in passing. Over the course of this and last season, he developed intelligent defending, trying to steal balls in front of his opponents and really defending forward, putting a lot of pressure on the opponent. That’s what we see and that’s why we’re happy to extend his contract.”
Elliott started 30 games in his rookie season and ended up third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel and Minnesota United’s Abu Danladi.
Elliott made his 60th start for the club in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with the Seattle Sounders. In his three years with the club, he has scored four goals and earned one assist.
“It’s a huge step from the club and it shows that they believe in me,” Elliott said. “It helps to help me feel comfortable and move on and obviously it doesn’t change much here. There’s lots of competition at the center back spot and that helps everyone here and helps everyone becomes a better player.”