MARIETTA, GA. — Few MLS teams have embraced the “play your kids” mindset quite like the Philadelphia Union.
And so it’s no surprise the club has four players participating in the 2018 MLS Homegrown Game presented by Energizer (Tuesday, 8 pm ET | UDN, Twitter) — defenders Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty and Matthew Real, as well as midfielder Anthony Fontana. No other MLS team has more than two Homegrown selections.
All of the Philly Homegrowns have earned meaningful MLS regular season playing time this year, and Trusty is the only field player on the team to have played every minute of every game.
McKenzie, who has started 13 games as Trusty’s center back partner, spoke highly of the Union’s willingness to trust their young players.
“It’s great,” McKenzie told MLSsocer.com following a training session at the Atlanta United practice facility Monday. “It’s a testament to the club, and investing in the academy, and showing myself, Trusty, Matt, and Anthony all here, they’re trusting us and giving us the opportunities and then giving us the accountability to make sure we take advantage of it.”
Trusty agreed with his teammate’s assessment, describing the Union’s youth system as “amazing.” The four players selected for the Homegrown Game all recently graduated from YSC Academy, the Union-affiliated private school that opened five years ago and caters to the team's academy players.
“It’s the kind of mindset they instill in you because you can’t get complacent, you can’t be settled with where you are right now, you just want to keep going forward and forward,” Trusty said. “That’s what they instilled in mine and everybody else’s mind from the academy.”
Asked if they were surprised to have earned spots in the starting lineup so early in their MLS careers, both described the experience as “humbling,” but neither seemed to think it was all that unusual.
“You don’t take anything for granted,” Trusty said. “Because for a young guy, a year ago or two years ago, you’re watching, and you’re trying to be on that field, trying to be in the stadium, trying to be part of the team. You don’t take it granted at all and you just want to keep pushing and pushing.”
The defenders have certainly faced tough challenges from some of the league's top strikers this season but have mostly held up well, impressing head coach Jim Curtin, a former center back himself.
“You always stay prepared. As my dad always says, ‘If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,’” McKenzie said. “Of course, I want to play, but I also know you have to ‘Trust the Process,’ is the Philly term. You go in, you work hard, you keep your head down, and you do what you need to do, especially as a rookie. So ultimately, I did what I had to do and got my opportunity, I’m thankful for that, and I just ran with it.
“It’s a blessing to be able to play for your hometown club. You come up through the academy ranks, all the way through, and now you’re able to play in front of your home fans.”