CHESTER, Pa. – During the first two seasons of his MLS career, Philadelphia Union center back Austin Berry didn’t experience many setbacks.
After being selected ninth overall in the 2012 SuperDraft by the Chicago Fire, the Louisville product garnered MLS Rookie of the Year honors in 2012 before playing every single minute in 2013, one of only three field players in the league to accomplish such a feat.
But when his team changed in the offseason, so did his fortunes.
So far through the 2014 campaign, Berry has dealt with an injury, a benching and some mistake-filled performances that have the Union’s backline limping into Sunday’s matchup with Robbie Keane and the LA Galaxy at StubHub Center (8 pm ET, Univision Deportes).
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” Berry told MLSsoccer.com. “But I think, personally, it’s made me a little better. In Chicago, I think maybe I was a little bit too comfortable because there really wasn’t anyone pushing for my spot. Here, I really had to earn that spot back. That in itself made me work a little bit harder, put some more time in and kind of get myself back.”
Despite arriving to camp very late in the preseason following the Union’s trade with the Fire on Feb. 25, Berry was inserted into Philly’s opening-day starting lineup. But the 25-year-old center back hurt his hamstring in the second game of the season, and was held out of the team’s next three games because of the injury. He then missed four more contests after losing his spot to Aaron Wheeler following a poor performance against Real Salt Lake on April 12.
Berry regained his place in the starting lineup earlier this month and has started the last three games for the Union. But he struggled to slow down the New England Revolution’s high-octane attack in this past Saturday’s 5-3 loss.
Now, it seems, Berry’s place is in the starting lineup is far from secure. With Brian Carroll set to return from a groin injury and Amobi Okugo likely sliding back to center back after a two-game stint in the midfield, manager John Hackworth indicated that he could decide to partner Sheanon Williams with Okugo at center back while slotting Ray Gaddis and Fabinho into the fullback spots. And then there’s still Wheeler and even Ethan White, who has yet to play in a league match this season, fighting for minutes at center back.
“It’s not like we’re satisfied with that position,” Hackworth said. “So it opens up for an opportunity for sure.”
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Berry, of course, hopes he can seize the opportunity by stringing a bunch of solid games together at the position and developing into the reliable ironman he was in Chicago.
And, despite dealing with some rare setbacks, he remains confident that's exactly what will happen.
“I’m still growing and I’m still learning the position at this level,” he said. “So there definitely should be better soccer ahead of me.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.