CHESTER, Pa. – For the first 18 games of the season, there was nothing Ethan White could do but wait.
Although the 23-year-old arrived in Philadelphia in the offseason as one of the Union’s only true center backs, he hadn’t been called upon to play, falling behind converted strikers and converted midfielders alike on the defensive depth chart.
But thanks in large part to interim manager Jim Curtin replacing former boss John Hackworth, White has suddenly found himself in the middle of the Union’s ever-changing backline, starting the last two games at center back and getting ready to possibly start a third when Philly face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS Live).
“It feels good,” White told MLSsoccer.com. “Obviously it’s my job, so I have to be ready whenever I’m called upon. Jim has been in my ear and told me to keep at it.”
White earned his first start against Colorado on Saturday, replacing the suspended Maurice Edu in the lineup. But even after Edu returned from his one-game suspension, White started again Wednesday vs. the Red Bulls – this time next to Edu and with Sheanon Williams sliding from center back to right back.
And Curtin, a former standout MLS center back himself, was pleased with his performances in both games – a 3-3 draw with the Rapids and a 3-1 victory over New York.
“Ethan was a beast again,” Curtin said Wednesday. “That’s two games in a row. He’s accepted the challenge, embraced it and did extremely well. What I’ve been most happy with is his passing.
“He wins the battles. He’s an incredible athlete. He’ll win everything in the air. He’ll win the individual duals one-on-one. But his long-range passing that sets up the attack right now for us has been a very, very pleasant surprise, to be honest.”
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White wasn’t quite as high on his own performance, saying that he thought he “played alright” while lamenting the fact that he allowed the league’s leading scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips, to have too much space on the Red Bulls’ only goal.
He also knows staying in the lineup could be a difficult task when the Union are at full strength and if center back Carlos Valdes returns early from his loan stint at San Lorenzo in Argentina – which now appears more likely.
But after being on the bench for so long, he doesn’t want to go back.
“My goal is to stay on the field and never come off,” White said. “So we’ll see what happens.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.