Quick learning curve: Philadelphia Union hope Austin Berry will be up to speed for season opener

Austin Berry training with Philadelphia Union

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Philadelphia Union Communications

Just 48 hours after training with the Chicago Fire, Austin Berry put on a Philadelphia Union uniform and got into a game, playing the final 30 minutes of Wednesday’s scoreless preseason draw with Toronto FC.

But it’s going to take more time than that for the central defender to feel comfortable with his new team.

“It felt good to finally get out there and mingle with the guys and see what they’re like playing with,” Berry said after the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic exhibition. “It’s going to take time for me to get used to but it’s a good day and we got a result.”

Monday’s trade for Berry was the final piece to a very active offseason for the Philadelphia Union, who also revamped their midfield with the acquisitions of Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira.

And Berry, the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year who played every minute last season, figures to slot into the starting lineup on a team in desperate need of some defensive experience.

But before that happens, Hackworth said Berry must gain more familiarity with his teammates on the backline, including fellow center back Amobi Okugo.

“He’s going to have to build some very quick relationships both with Fábinho [at left back] and Amobi,” Hackworth said. “So it’s good to see him get out there and get a good 30 minutes in. He had to make some plays and get a feel for his teammates and all of those kinds of things. It was a positive step forward.”

With just one more preseason game left – and the start of the regular season just 10 days away – Berry doesn’t have much time to build these relationships.

But the 25-year-old center back noted that Okugo is a player he’s been “acquainted with over the years,” which should make for a more natural center back pairing between the two. And Hackworth believes making the necessary adjustments that come with being traded will come relatively natural to Berry, too.

“I had a long talk with him this morning over breakfast,” Hackworth said. “He’s an intelligent young man. He’s played for coaches that have had a similar philosophy, so some of the things we talked about are things he’s heard many times before. I’ve said this before but we did a little bit of research in knowing the kind of defender we wanted to bring in to our team.”

And if Berry is not ready to jump right into the starting lineup for the Union’s opener in Portland on March 8, Hackworth has a few fallback options, perhaps none more enticing than converted striker Aaron Wheeler.

The 6-foot-4 Wheeler – who mostly played in the attack during his first season in Philly last year – has been deployed as a center back for much of the preseason, which included getting the start for Wednesday’s game vs. Toronto.

“He has really shown rapid growth right now as a central defender,” Hackworth said. “He’s been a very bright spot for us – especially today.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.