CHESTER, Pa. – New Philadelphia Union signee Matt Kassel feels respected and appreciated by his MLS club.
It’s the first time he’s been able to say that.
A little more than two years before inking a deal with the Union, Kassel became the third Homegrown player to be signed by the New York Red Bulls. But after playing sparingly for his hometown club in 2011, the New Jersey native was waived just before the start of the 2012 season.
“The whole situation, I would say, was pretty disrespectful,” Kassel told MLSsoccer.com. “Right now, with Mike Petke as head coach, I think they might have the right group of guys there to run the team in the proper way. But when I was there, it was foreign guys that didn’t really care about younger American players. I think if you talk to anyone who was part of the team that I was a part of, nobody was happy.”
The quick dismissal from New York certainly stunted the career growth of Kassel, who was one of the nation’s top recruits out of high school and then a three-year starter at the University of Maryland.
The 23-year-old midfielder played for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the USL Pro last summer, before beginning his trial with the Union in the fall. He came back on trial with Philly this preseason and was officially signed Tuesday.
“No one ever wants to be on trial,” Kassel said. “But with an environment like it is here, they made me feel really welcome. It really felt like home. One of the main reasons why I stayed on trial here for so long is because I felt so comfortable here and enjoyed how they treated me. They treated me like family.”
Kassel noted his whole experience with the Union before getting signed was made easier by all of the good friends he has on the club, including Zac MacMath, who he roomed with at Maryland (and whose couch he stayed on in Philly before moving into his own apartment Wednesday).
He also said that he was constantly kept in the loop on his chances of making the club.
“I always had communication with the coaches,” Kassel said. “I knew my standing and that if I kept plugging away, things could open up for me. At the end of the day, it worked out for me and I’m happy to be here.”
It remains to be seen how Kassel fits in to an already deep Philly team. The 23-year-old featured as a defensive midfielder with the Terps but scored a goal as a fullback during a Union preseason game.
If nothing else, he brings the versatility and the kind of locker room presence that Union manager John Hackworth likes in his players.
“Matt probably deserves the opportunity here as much as anybody,” Hackworth said. “He’s just a quality player and a quality individual. He fits all the things we look for in a player and a person. And he makes us better.”