Jack Elliott worthy of Rookie of Year consideration, Curtin says

Jack Elliott - Philadelphia Union - makes a play on the ball

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Philadelphia Union have never had a Rookie of the Year winner, though Jim Curtin thinks that could change very soon.

Philly’s coach declared as such after his side’s 3-0 loss at the New England Revolution last Saturday, one where first-year center back Jack Elliott was a bright spot on an otherwise dreary night.

“For me, I think he’s been the Rookie of the Year,” Curtin said of Elliott. “He’s played at that level and I thought he was excellent again tonight.”

When asked about his coach’s remarks, the 6-foot-5 Elliott responded true to character: Humble, soft spoken and driven.

“It’s nice to hear that kind of praise from the coach,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t really change anything; I’ve still got to perform every week. Nothing is decided. To be of that caliber you have to perform all the way through the season. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Still, it’s hard not to reflect upon how the 21-year-old is of a different mold and backstory than Cyle Larin and Jordan Morris, MLS’s last two Rookie of the Year winners. The former is a star for Orlando City SC, while the latter just scored the game-winning goal in the Gold Cup final for the US national team.

Elliott, meanwhile, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft after playing at West Virginia University. He was, at best, a long shot for even making the roster, but now he’s started 17 consecutive games in the heart of the Union’s defense.

It’s a trajectory that few expected, and Elliott himself was quick to shy away from praise when asked about the key to his success.

“Just going through the same routine every week,” Elliott said. “Eating healthy, sleeping, all that kind of stuff that helps you perform. Then obviously going out every day and competing against our boys in training and at the weekend against other teams.”

A Londoner by birth, Elliott added that veteran center back Oguchi Onyewu has been instrumental in his development, providing him with “info here and there and tips that I can use.” Still, Elliott’s instincts shine through in games, much like they did in the 49th minute against New England.

That's when Lee Nguyen slipped Teal Bunbury in, who squared to Diego Fagundez for what seemed a surefire Revs goal. But in came Elliott, not giving up on the play, and diving to clear Fagundez’s shot off the line with his right boot.

“It’s always staying on the play and not giving up on it,” Elliott said of the sequence. “I thought it was going to get finished off but he took a touch and gave me the chance to get back in and block it.”

That’s but one moment in Elliott’s continued rise, and now the rookie center back said he’s looking forward to a break. The Union played five league games in 24 days during July, and have a full week off before hosting FC Dallas next Saturday (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE).

Come then, Elliott is sure to slot into his customary spot, a feat Curtin said he’s earned.

“[I’m] happy with his development and his growth and he’s shown that he more than belongs in this league,” Curtin said. “He’s left a mark on each and every game that he plays and he does great against top strikers in our league. Again, happy with him. He continues to get better each and every week.”