MLS Exports

“Living my dream”: USMNT hopeful, Arsenal loanee Auston Trusty thrives at Birmingham City

Auston Trusty Birmingham

Auston Trusty wasn’t sure what type of reception he’d receive when heading out on loan this summer from early Premier League leaders Arsenal.

Suffice it to say the Birmingham City faithful have welcomed the former Philadelphia Union and Colorado Rapids center back with open arms.

“In a sense, I came over here thinking it'd be harder to be accepted since I am an American,” said the MLS export, connecting with virtually from England. “There's always kind of been a little stigma with us playing football over here.

“But to come here, day one, all the fans accept you and they're singing ‘USA’ every time I touch the ball, it's a great feeling. You want to fight for them, and you're kind of fighting for your country, for them, for your team. It's just really, really motivating to hear that on the field. It's really cool.”

The Blues, reinvigorated under new manager John Eustace, are up to 12th place in the Championship, showing signs of progress after finishing near the second division’s relegation zone the past few years. The 24-year-old American defender is a big reason why, sitting as their second-leading scorer (three goals) behind Ireland international striker Scott Hogan.

Trusty was brought in more to shore up Birmingham City’s defense, and he’s doing exactly that as a consistent 90-minute starter. In a squad with ex-EPLers like goalkeeper John Ruddy and forward Troy Deeney, as well as fellow top-flight loanee defenders like Dion Sanderson (from Wolves) and Emmanuel Longelo (from West Ham), Trusty is one of the brightest presences.

“I'm living my dream here and I think a lot of kids in the US, all of us dream about coming to Europe, especially coming to England and playing in one of the best football countries in the world, if not the best,” said Trusty, who earned October Team of the Month recognition. “So I'm really living my dream. There's nothing to lose, only things to gain.”

USMNT, Arsenal goals

Trusty’s comments come during a busy time, adjusting to the three-games-a-week lifestyle of a 46-game Championship season combined with cup competitions. But this is the challenge he craved when developing in MLS, before securing a January 2022 transfer from Colorado to Arsenal, staying within the Kroenke Sports & Entertainment family.

Rather than jumping across the pond last winter, Trusty stayed on loan with Colorado for the first half of the 2022 campaign before playing his last MLS game on July 4th weekend. Then, he officially departed to join the small group of Rapids exports plying their trade in Europe after a record-setting 2021 season that saw them finish atop the Western Conference. He’s followed in the footsteps of left back Sam Vines (Belgium’s Royal Antwerp) and midfielder Cole Bassett (Holland’s Fortuna Sittard) – two homegrown standouts and US internationals.

Life’s moving pretty fast for one of the newest MLS alums abroad, and he hopes the US men’s national team coaching staff is taking notice.

“I've been in a couple of camps before and been part of the team, part of the gameday squad for three games,” said Trusty, who awaits his first senior-level cap. “But my mindset is to be in this World Cup, so that's the only mindset I have. I'm not looking further than that, just at this World Cup.”

The window for the ball-playing, left-footed center back to break into Gregg Berhalter’s plans may be narrow. Trusty said he hasn’t talked with the USMNT manager directly since coming to England over the summer, though there’s been some contact with assistants in the intervening months.

And entering the USMNT’s defensive group may prove difficult, with Berhalter appearing to prefer system-proven pieces for Qatar 2022, even with central defense in some degree of flux. Trusty, nevertheless, hopes his chance will come soon.

“I think I'm doing my job, I think I'm doing my part,” Trusty said. “So it's just keep on doing my thing and playing my game.”

When asked about possibly breaking into the Arsenal squad, Trusty shows a similar level of aspiration. The Gunners have a locked-in central defensive pairing of William Saliba and ​​Gabriel Magalhães, and the likes of Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu can more than ably fill in. Though this season-long loan to Birmingham could – one day – set him up to more firmly enter manager Mikel Arteta’s gameday plans.

“I'm in contact with them all the time and my mindset is to get to Arsenal and play for Arsenal,” said Trusty, the Londoners' second American alongside former New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner. “It's probably the best club in the world right now and I'm excited for it.

“It's the perfect spot right now and I'm doing my thing, at an incredible organization in Birmingham. But, obviously, the goal is to play in the Premier League, play at a top team. That's where it's at.”

England, US differences

That MLS byproducts are part of these conversations is a testament to the league’s growing reputation and perception in the global transfer market. And Trusty is a strong example, accumulating 115 regular-season and Audi MLS Cup Playoffs games with Colorado and Philadelphia by his age-23 season.

That all lends some perspective on how the league he developed in compares to the rigors and pressure of life in England.

“I think the mindset of everything here is the biggest difference I've noticed,” said Trusty. “It's just the mentality of how you approach the game, how you go about stuff and how much do you care.

“Because here you get relegated,” Trusty continued, contrasting the closed MLS system. “If you get promoted that's big money, if you get relegated you lose money. Everyone wants to win, so everyone is trying their hardest. From training, it's super, super intense. Then games are super, super intense. So I think the biggest difference I see is intensity.”

Auston Trusty
Auston Trusty helped the Colorado Rapids top the Western Conference in 2021. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

But Trusty also believes MLS is showing signs of progress, growing significantly in the buildup to the World Cup coming to the US, Mexico and Canada in four years.

“I was actually telling people before this call that by 2026, the whole atmosphere will change a ton,” Trusty said. “You can already see it now with teams doing well, and me being from Philly and seeing the Union do well, that's great to see.

“Growing up there, you'd tell people you're going to a Union game and they're like 'What's that?' Now maybe that's there a little too, but it's totally changing. With the Union doing well and people seeing it, they want to get on the bandwagon. It's just how it works as, 'Yeah, I do like soccer, I do like watching it.' It's all changing.”

Still, there are day-to-day differences.

“I think it's just the culture of football over here,” Trusty said. “It means a lot more to people and that's what we're trying to change in MLS, change in US soccer. We want to get everyone in the community around it.

“Here, it really means a lot and maybe people are saving up money all week to go to the game. It's just a different culture, but also a different way they approach football, because football is life here. That's what we're trying to change in MLS.”

Auston Trusty first turned pro with the Philadelphia Union. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Trusting the process

Perhaps on a different timeline, Trusty would be part of those above Union-centric conversations as a player. He signed a homegrown contract with Philadelphia in 2016, emerging as a starter for them across the 2018-19 campaigns after being part of the United States’ quarterfinal run at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup. At that tournament, he played alongside those like Celtic center back Cameron Carter-Vickers and Leeds United midfielder Tyler Adams.

But then a trade to Colorado materialized ahead of the 2020 campaign, and his career took off. Trusty credits Rapids head coach Robin Fraser, a former two-time MLS Defender of the Year, with preparing him “to come over here and do my thing” and the whole club for supporting the move abroad. That experience also helped push Trusty outside his comfort zone.

“Me leaving Philadelphia to go to Colorado, that helped me out a lot,” Trusty said, “because it's really hard going straight from your hometown to a new country, a new environment, you don't know anybody, you don't have family around. I had that already a bit.”

And now, Trusty’s on an upward trajectory. The USMNT and Arsenal conversations will chart their course, he said. For the time being, it’s about continuing to progress at Birmingham and trusting good things will come.

“If I get better continually, everything will take care of itself,” Trusty said. “ … I back myself and I back my ability.”