Philadelphia Union centerbacks Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty have experienced plenty of firsts together in their young careers, so it’s fitting the defensive duo is headed to the United States men’s national team January camp together.
Trusty, who has played at the U-17 and U-20 World Cups for the United States, and McKenzie, who is one of the key members of the U-20 squad headed to Poland for the World Cup in May, are over the moon to receive an opportunity to play alongside each other in their first senior team national camp.
“You come through the academy with a guy, then sign a first team contract and play with the first team together, starting games together in the back, it’s an experience like none other,” McKenzie told reporters Thursday. ‘To be called into the national team with this guy you’ve been with since you’ve been 12-13, it’s incredible. It’s a feeling like none other. I’m excited for what’s to come with him and both of us.”
The excitement of taking the next step in their respective careers goes far beyond the players. There’s an entire support staff that’s played a role in getting the defenders to this point.
“It’s cool not just for me and Mark, but for the people surrounding us who have gotten us to this point,” Trusty said. “It’s not just the Union, it’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes, especially with the academy to be able to grow with the academy and grow together and become the players we are today.”
In recent years, the Union have made a commitment to playing young players and advancing them through the system to eventually latch on with the USMNT.
“We know it’s not an easy league to perform in, and the younger guys like Trusty and McKenzie are interesting,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said on Thursday. “To be able to perform in MLS at that young of an age, I think, means you have quality.”
Established players Alejandro Bedoya and Fafa Picault reached that goal, but Thursday’s announcement marked the first time two Homegrown players represent the Union with the USMNT.
“It’s a testament to the club and how much they invest in us at very young ages,” McKenzie said. “I know I was coming up to the pre-academy programs since I was 10 years old.
“To spend that much time investing into young players and helping them develop into the best possible young men and young players they can be, you can’t really explain it in any other way than it being a position of being blessed. It’s not every day you’re part of a club that has confidence in their young talent and puts them in the position to succeed at the highest stage possible.”
While McKenzie and Trusty achieved an important accomplishment for the club and themselves, they see January camp as just the beginning of something special — and it creates a tangible target for the players beneath them in the Union ranks.
“It’s creating paths for other behind, especially the ones in the academy,” Trusty said. “Also it’s good to have a role model for kids in the academy and the kids in the Philadelphia area to look up to to now these dreams can come true and be accomplished if you keep your head down and keep on grinding to do your job.”
As for what they’ll do once they reach January camp, the centerbacks plan on continuing to do what earned them starting jobs in Philadelphia in 2018.
“We’re just going to do the little things and let our game dictate what happens,” McKenzie said. “You can’t do much more than that. We’re confident in our abilities and who we are. We just try to mesh with the group and try to put together as many consistent performances as we can.”