USL - Bethlehem Steel FC

The next wave of potential Union Academy breakthroughs

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union Academy

Auston Tusty has been a pioneer during Bethlehem Steel FC’s inaugural season.

The teenage center back is the first player to join Philadelphia Union whose development was fully within Union’s player development process, from Union Juniors through to the first team.

In less than one full academic year, he stepped from the Union Academy U-18s, through practicing daily with the USL Steel and starting games for them, to practicing with the Union as a Homegrown signing and being loaned on a game-by-game basis back to the Steel to play. He has twice sat the first team bench as part of the game day eighteen. He has blazed the trail.

As this is the beginning of the academy’s 2016-2017 cycle, perhaps as many as 11 or more academy players will try to follow the sequenced steps of that trail as far as they can.

  1. Earn the opportunity to practice with the Steel instead of the U-18s.
  2. Dress and appear in USL games.
  3. Start for the Steel — and then do it consistently.
  4. Sign with the Union, practice with them, and sit the bench in their game day 18 before breaking into the starting XI.

We have an idea who some of those academy boys might be. The following five have already earned game minutes with the Steel. The first four have started at least once. No one has started more than twice.

  • Mark McKenzie: The academy senior defender from Wilmington, Del., is the first and most obvious probability. Only injuries kept him from accumulating significant 2016 USL minutes.
  • Justin McMaster: The academy senior forward will certainly be given a solid chance to travel the steps of the Trusty-blazed trail.
  • Anthony Fontana: The senior attacking central midfielder will be given the same initial chance after seeing limited time for Bethlehem this season.
  • Matt Real: Real is a senior left back who has seen time as a U.S. youth international.
  • Josue Monge: The senior defensive center midfielder who could see time next season.

All five will need to display consistent performance to have their opportunities continue through November and then from February forward.

Other younger names are only now rising above the horizon. Considering they are still youths, Bethlehem head coach Brendan Burke has asked that we information-greedy readers respect the boys’ privacy and allow him to judge and manage when they should be identified to the public.

But at least part of that information has been publicized as of last Friday. The Official Bethlehem Steel FC Roster at the United Soccer League’s website now lists the following youngsters under 20 years old:

Given Name Surname D. O. B. Yrs Mos HS
Derrick Jones 3/3/1997 19 7 Diploma
Yosef Samuel 7/3/1997 19 3 Diploma
Auston Trusty 8/12/1998 18 2 Diploma
Mark McKenzie 2/25/1999 17 7 Senior
Josue Monge 3/11/1999 17 6 Senior
Justin McMaster 6/30/1999 17 3 Senior
Matt Real 7/10/1999 17 3 Senior
Anthony Fontana 10/14/1999 16 11 Senior
Issa Rayyan 8/24/2000 16 1 Junior
Tomas Romero 12/19/2000 16 3 Junior
Kris Shakes 4/27/2001 15 5 Junior

(Note: The italicized names reflect players signed to professional contracts.)

The amateur players are assumed to be on “zero dollars USL contracts,” which FIFA, USSF, and NCAA all agree maintain the player’s amateur standing and NCAA eligibility.

Judging from the experience of last year, we should not conclude anything beyond that those listed above are eligible to dress for Steel games. Two of last year’s now-graduated seniors dressed several times but never got into a game.

Yosef Samuel got 29 minutes as a substitute attacking on the left flank this past Sunday. Tomas Romero has now dressed twice as the back-up goalkeeper. Issa Rayyan and Kris Shakes have not yet dressed.

Bethlehem’s season may have ended with the club falling short of the playoffs, but it has begun to serve at least one role the Union wanted from it: A means of developing the first wave of truly homegrown Union players.

4 Comments

  1. Good luck gentlemen…this is where the toughness coach Klinsman speaks about begins to separate you… are you staying later than the guy next to you… are you arriving earlier than the guy in front of you. What work are you doing on your own… What weaknesses are you strengthening beyond the purview of your ‘mates and coaches. Are you friendly off the pitch but an assassin on it. These boys standing around you while being your ‘mates or buds are like you…….. assets to the club. They will call only on those most influential.
    .
    You are squarely in the window of preparation meeting opportunity. Sieze the moments. Good luck.

  2. Exciting to see our academy evolve and have players advance up the ladder. When you look at the progress that soccer has made in this country over the last 10-20 years in providing opportunities for players, it’s staggering. We’re clearly not where we need to be yet, but it’s very encouraging when you take a step back and view where we were just a short time ago.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Yeah the bigger picture of what has gone on in the last 10-20 years is stunning and amazing to see. Glad I am young enough to be able to enjoy it for many years – hopefully 🙂
      .
      MLS, as a league, has its failings for sure, but a lot of good things are happening because it exists.

  3. Nice to have our teams here in the Philadelphia area creating these opportunities for the soccer community. The path from academy to first team is a reality. Best of luck to these up and coming pros!

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