PSP talks to Georgetown men’s soccer coach Brian Wiese

Photo: Ed Farnsworth

Georgetown men’s soccer head coach talks to PSP’s Adam Cann about  Philadelphia Union draft picks Joshua Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry.

Philly Soccer Page: Let’s start with Joshua Yaro. What is it about him that made so many MLS teams think he was the best player available in this draft?

Brian Wiese: He’s got a rare combination of both athleticism and pace. He’s not a huge kid, it’s not like he’s a 6’4″ center back, but he’s very strong, very explosive, good in the air, handles his stuff in the air. He’s also got the ability to play. He’s got great feet. You put him in a setting under some pressure and he handles it really comfortably. He just ticks all the boxes off for a player you want to work with and want to coach. And he’s a very coachable and humble kid on top of it. So the only knock against the kid is he’s not a 6’3″, 6’4″ center back.

PSP: But that knock comes up a lot. How does he deal with that? Have you worked with him to make sure he can play and hold his own against big strikers? 

BW: He doesn’t get caught in those positions. He may not play in the air with the same dominance as someone who is built to be a 6’4″, 220 pound center back who commands the airspace, but he’s going to win balls.

He’s strong enough that he can handle a lot of the physical battles, but he knows those are not the battles he wants to be in. He wants to be in: What happens on the next touch, or reading the entry pass. So he’s gotten very good with just understanding what his strengths are and playing to them. I think that’s one of the great things with Joshua is he’s a smart kid and he plays intelligently too. That’s the thing that gets people excited about him. Character is great, but he’s a great athlete, he’s got great feet, and he’s smart. I don’t know what else you really need in a soccer player at the end of the day. That’s what I think people are excited about.

He’s young, and he’s still got some learning to do, but he’s very willing to learn. He’s not going to sit here and say he has all the answers. He’s going to be willing to work and learn, and his workrate is second to none. So he’s got unbelievable upside that everybody looks at, and rightly so.

PSP: One thing I asked when Ray Gaddis was drafted was whether he tended to lean on his athleticism as a crutch instead of learning angles and figuring out how to defend teams that will come at him with a more nuanced attack. Watching Fabian Herbers highlights, one of the things you notice is that in college he was able to simply run by a lot of defenders, but in MLS that won’t be so easy. Joshua is going to face guys now that are trickier to defend. How is he going to respond to that?

BW: That’s the thing that makes him a special prospect. He’s not just fast, he’s not just an athlete that you’re going to have to figure out how to shape into all the other stuff. He is a thinker. He’s a smart soccer player. He’s very efficient with how he plays and how he reads the game.

And don’t undersell Fabian Herbers. We know him very well from being in the Big East. One of the real great moments in our games last year was watching Fabian and Joshua line up against each other. I think he’s not just a straightforward guy. You want to talk about a savvy, tricky soccer player: Herbers checks that box for you. He’s a great pickup for the Union. When I saw that pick, I thought, ‘Goodness gracious, what an amazing trio of kids they got.’

And look, none of them are proven, but I know all three of those guys well and I thought, ‘That could be some core of players if they all get it right.’

He’s special. Herbers is special. I thought he was the best player we played by a long shot last year. And we played a lot of very good players on our schedule.

Him and Yaro, it was fun seeing the two of them work it out.

But Yaro: Here’s a story for you. We played Argentina. They came in for a week last spring to train at Georgetown. And they used our players as the opposition during training sessions. And it was amazing, it was a surreal week for our team. It was their full group. It was Messi, and it was Zabaleta and Mascherano and Rojas. You name it and those guys were there. It was the whole group. And you’re sitting there trying to deal with Di Maria and going, ‘Well this is a little different…’

And Joshua had class so he missed the first session. The first day they had guys in they had this little exercise where they were playing for little ten minute windows against our college players and some of our alums who volunteered to come back and be there too,

So class ended and Joshua comes running up. And Sergio Aguero was in the Argentina group for those ten minutes. And for the first ten minute period, he was looking like Sergio Aguero against a bunch of college kids. Then Joshua came in for the next ten minute period against him, and all the things he thought were going to be easy weren’t working. Josh would just take it off of him. Or he’d try to touch it by Josh and he would just step in front of him and spin out of it and away we went.

And you see Aguero starting to get really frustrated as he’s trying to deal with Yaro. And he obviously has no idea who he’s going up against, he thinks he’s going against a college kid. And he is, in essence, but he’s going up against a special one. And Yaro played as a holding mid for a little bit in there, and held against the Argentina national team. And they started asking about him. Like: ‘What’s his nationality? We can turn him into an Argentinian.’

He was one of the only players who didn’t look out of place. And we had a very good team last year and you’re looking at it and thinking that our very good team looks young and naive — as they should against the Argentina national team — but Yaro looks OK. He still looks comfortable and relaxed and making good decisions. It just looks like another practice session for him. He just stepped up and played. It was just another session for him, and he looked great.

PSP: That speaks to my next question. The Union had a leaky defense last year and they drafted Joshua, then Keegan right behind him to fix that, but it won’t happen immediately. Have you seen these guys respond to adversity? If they go on a three game losing streak, how will they respond? Often it’s the defense that has to pick things up to give the offense a chance to get their act together. 

BW: These guys are very serious, they’re very mature. They’re very confident in themselves, as they should be. They work for it.

But these are both players, when you look at our team last year, they were extremely important to our team in terms of their success. We started in the spring with Keegan Rosenberry as our holding midfielder, as the six. And we started preseason with him there and actually played against the Philadelphia Union reserve team with Keegan as a six and Yaro playing at center back behind him. And they looked pretty good, I thought they were terrific in that game.

And we had to move Keegan to right back because we didn’t have anyone who — given the way we play — was giving us what we needed there. And it was a hard decision, because I thought Keegan would have been an unbelievable holding mid for us. With the way he’s built, his toughness, and his technical ability, and his ability to play passes.

PSP: What do you see from Keegan that can make him stand out as a fullback then?

BW: Well, let me turn that around: What do you think are the stereotypical qualities that make a good MLS fullback?

PSP: Well, the stereotype would be one who can contribute to the attack but also play in a solid back line. The standouts are the ones who can balance those two aspects of the game, getting up the line at the right times. 

BW: Keegan never played in the back until he got to Georgetown, so he was always a true center mid-type, holding mid-type at heart, growing up and developing with Penn Fusion. And he had all the tools to be a great fullback because of his athleticism, toughness, technical ability. If you look at Keegan… if you look at our entire back four: Keegan, Joshua Yaro, and Cole Seiler, who got picked up by Vancouver, and Josh Turnley got picked up by the Galaxy. Those four guys were terrific athletes, but they also, if you put them in a possession box against our four starting midfielders, who are terrific players in their own right, our back four probably keeps the ball better than our midfield in that setting. It’s a group of four, technical, midfield-type players who became unbelievable defenders because of their positioning and athletic traits. But their feet are great.

So you have a player like Rosenberry who, at our level, plays any range pass with either foot you want. He can take one step and hit a 70-yard switch no problem. And he knocks the head off of the left winger. The most technical player I think I’ve ever worked with in terms of that. So clean. First touch is terrific. And so he’s got this ability to play a lot of different passes, ability to hit a lot of different crosses when he gets into attacking positions, and he loves playing in tight spaces.

So when you get into the attacking third he can play with anybody else up there. And I think the one thing he’s really developed more than anything else in his time in college, is really understanding what it means to be a good defender. His 1v1 defending against opposing players has gotten unbelievably better. You take a player that is used to being a holding mid and put him out wide with a flank player running at him, that takes a bit of learning and work. And he became very, very good with that. And he’ll have to take another step forward with all of these things with the Union. But his ability to play entries out of the back, to be comfortable under pressure with the ball at his feet, to make good decisions — not overplay in bad spots — is great. He and Yaro are both kangaroos. Those guys have unbelievable jump scores, and they’re powerful over 5-10 yards. So they have the athleticism to compete as needed.

I think the great thing about Keegan: With the ball, he’s terrific. And I think he’s terrific when you have a team pinned in and you need attacking options from your flanks. And for teams that want your fullbacks to be doing that, that’s why we kept him there for four years. He’s as good as we’ve had at doing that.

He was a part of scouting reports for every team we played against, in terms of worrying about the kid from a defensive point of view. So any time you’re worried about a fullback and how they attack, that’s a good sign.

PSP: I think that if, for any reason, Keegan had been drafted below Brandon Vincent, all the talk would be about what an amazing player he is, particularly after his combine. And he had a great season, well, four great seasons with you, but instead the narrative is that he has to prove that he deserves to be drafted where he was. And maybe that’s not a fair place for him to start. Is that the sort of thing that could drive him? 

BW: I think it’s a good point, actually. I don’t think it’s quite fair. I think the narrative has been, ‘Well, is Keegan better than Brandon Vincent? Did the Union make a good decision?’ Versus: ‘They have a great player and hopefully they develop him right.’ And that’s natural, that’s what the draft does. That’s the fun of the draft. But for both of these guys, they don’t require an ounce of external motivation. There’s nothing I could say to either of those two to make them play harder or work harder, or make it matter more. It matters to them inherently. They both really want to be successful, they want the team to win, and they want to be big parts of that.

You know people saying that Joshua Yaro is not going to be a great center back in the league because of his size, Joshua Yaro is the kind of guy who is going to try and prove that wrong, it’s going to put a little chip on his shoulder and he’s going to work harder for it.

And I think the same with Keegan. People are saying, ‘Oh maybe that [pick] was a mistake. And I think someone like Keegan, he’s going to respond the right way to that. I don’t have any worries about these kids. They need to stay healthy and they need opportunities. And if both of those things present themselves, they’re going to be terrific pros. They have all of the emotional attributes of a good pro, just mentally tough. Self-confident, but humble enough to know that they don’t know everything.

PSP: When I talked to coach Curtin recently, I asked him if he wanted to see a bit more fire on the field this season, and he said that he absolutely did want that. Are these the type of players who tend to show their emotions when they play? Is that something you ever asked of them as a coach?

BW: Maybe a little, but not much, honestly. I think if you’re really paying attention to both of those players, you’ll see it. I think that’s one of those things, to be honest, that makes them excellent players. They don’t rely on that emotional crest to have good performances. You can’t be a highly volatile emotional entity and be consistent when you deal with sport. It just becomes distracting.

Also, it’s not realistic to show up every night and keep breathing fire. At some point you have situations where the opponent, situation, or setting makes it hard. But these are guys that are going to give really consistent performances. If I’m a coach and I’m looking down the bench and I see a rah-rah guy that’s going to give that energy, that might be good. But that might not be what you want as a starting 90 minute player over the season. These guys would give you positive energy, but they’re not going to be out there as cheerleaders. They’re going to go about their business. And I’ll take eleven of those guys any day of the week over eleven guys that are super fired up to play against the top team in the league but then you play a team that hasn’t won a game… where are they going to be? Are they going to show up for that game or not? Are they going to show up to play for every game. That’s my definition of a pro.

I think for younger players, you want that consistency. You want that mental toughness in a kid. And these guys’ll give you that.

PSP: When you saw these guys playing together, was there anything you saw that you thought they need to work on, or a positive thing Union fans can look for in how they play together?

BW: I think one of the big challenges for those two is that Jim Curtin and his staff will probably have slightly different ideas about what they want them to do in certain situations compared to what we’ve been coaching them to do at Georgetown. They’ll have habits as a pair, since the back four operates as a unit, based on the very specific things we asked them to do in each scenario. If the Union staff says we want it done a different way, that could almost become their biggest challenge. Because they’ve become so comfortable with each other, they know each other’s tendencies so well, they know each other’s spacing. If Joshua is getting the ball in this kind of situation with this kind of pressure, Keegan knows what Joshua is capable of and is thinking about how he can offer support. They play with each other really well. I think if the Union are going to play a possession, building brand of soccer this year, you’ve got two guys who understand each other’s strengths really well and are comfortable playing out of the back. And I think that relationship is huge.

I think the biggest challenge is that their instincts are so hard-wired after their time with us that they may have to unlearn some things tactically. Or even positionally based on what the Union are going to be asking of them. That’s almost the hardest thing.

But they can do that. They both came in with a lot to learn. Yaro’s positioning and angles were so off from what we were asking him to do when he come in. He had to really learn from scratch. And if he has to do that again with the Union, he’ll do that well.

I think you have two guys who really understand each other well. If Yaro is playing as the right-sided center back and Keegan is playing at right back, it’s going to be similar to two front players who really understand each other with their runs and timing, or two centerbacks who play next to each other and understand their roles. And those little relationships develop all over the field. So I don’t know if that was intentional from the Union’s point of view, but it’s awfully nice.

PSP: You mentioned that Keegan played in the holding mid role a bit. Is that something you could see him doing as a pro, or has he become more specialized into the back line at this point and that’s definitely where his future will lie? 

BW: I think one of the benefits of both Joshua and Keegan is that if you need them to play other spots, they can be really good at it. I think people look at Yaro and they see he’s a center back and know how good he is and they want to see what he’d be like as a right back, what he’d be like as a holding mid.

From my point of view, you’ve got two players who, if you want someone who can eat up ground like crazy, protect the back four, be able to handle the ball, distribute the ball well, you put Yaro in there. Like anything else, give him time in there, but I think he could be an unbelievable number six for somebody. A lot of people say they think he could be a right back. And I think he could be a right back, but there’s far less question in my mind about his ability to be a number six at the next level.

And I think Keegan Rosenberry could be an unbelievable holding mid. Again, when we played the Union’s reserves, he played as a holding mid that game and, as a biased coach, I thought he ran the game in the middle of the field. Absolutely had total control over what was happening, was winning tackles, he was controlling the tempo of the game and distributing the ball. So he’s hitting these knee-high fifty yard switches across the field then turn around and do it with his left foot, no problem. He’s got a real toughness to him. They both have a real toughness to them. They both tackle, they both have a defensive responsibility, then you give them the ball and they’re really comfortable.

I think what the Union have in Keegan Rosenberry and Joshua Yaro are two great soccer players.

PSP: Do you think that playing next to Joshua could have hurt Keegan going into the draft a bit? People thought Brandon Vincent was the best outside back in the draft, no questions asked. Is part of that because Keegan is in the shadow of Yaro, who was almost universally considered the best defender, if not the best player, on the board?

BW: Maybe. I think the coaches that really did their homework knew him. DC United were at a lot of our games, the Union, New York Red Bulls. They came out to a lot of our games and knew these guys. If you talk to the MLS staffs that really knew our team, that was no surprise. They appreciated him.

But I agree that there was so much hype about Joshua Yaro. And there was so much groupthink about Joshua Yaro. I think everyone was like, ‘He’s the top pick.’ And so people who walk in and think, ‘We have to watch this Joshua Yaro kid’ and then you stop paying attention to everyone else when you walk into a game like that. And I think Cole Seiler got really undervalued because he’s playing next to Yaro. Cole’s an unbelievably good center back, and the first words out of everybody’s mouths is: Joshua Yaro. And maybe rightly so, but the teams that knew it, knew it [about Keegan and Cole]

I was thrilled that the Union moved up to take Keegan. Philadelphia Union know exactly what they are getting in Keegan Rosenberry. I think they would tell you they would’ve signed him right after the summer if he hadn’t wanted to finish up his college degree, which he did. They thought he was ready then. I think the real pity, the real tragedy of the draft for the Union is that MLS didn’t grant them homegrown rights. I think the thing you have to put some trust into, is that the draft, for a lot of teams, is a leap of faith. And I think of all players out there, Keegan Rosenberry is the least unknown commodity for the Union. So the fact that they knew him as well as they did, knew him and liked him… I think it’s hard in a draft scenario to pass on a known commodity that you know you like.

So I think the Union will take a lot of solace in knowing that they aren’t guessing on Keegan Rosenberry. I think anybody who has seen us play enough will appreciate the quality. Our own team, when we did our MVP voting, Yaro was our MVP and Keegan was a close second behind him. And Brandon Allen was third. Brandon Allen was a Hermann Trophy finalist. And the guys who trained with them every day, the guys who understand the value of a player and a teammate said, ‘Yaro? Rosenberry? Which one?’ Those are the guys they valued.


  1. Carles Puyol says:

    Really insightful. He’s a well spoken coach. Thanks, this was great. I wish we had Rosenberry’s HG claim accepted and drafted Vincent. With Herbers as well, that would have been sweet, but I’m still happy we got some young talent. Now can they develop them?

  2. This is the first I’m hearing of Yaro as a holding mid (though to be honest, I don’t know much about the college game). Is it possible that Curtin/ES/the Union feel that this is his position? Clearly Wiese believes that he has a lot of potential there:

    “Then Joshua came in for the next ten minute period against him, and all the things he thought were going to be easy weren’t working. Josh would just take it off of him. Or he’d try to touch it by Josh and he would just step in front of him and spin out of it and away we went.

    And you see Aguero starting to get really frustrated as he’s trying to deal with Yaro. And he obviously has no idea who he’s going up against, he thinks he’s going against a college kid. And he is, in essence, but he’s going up against a special one. And Yaro played as a holding mid for a little bit in there…”

    ” Like anything else, give him time in there, but I think [Yaro] could be an unbelievable number six for somebody.”

    I certainly don’t feel comfortable with Edu in there, we have all seen him wander all over the park. Could Yaro be that destructive force that opens up Nogueira?

    Note: I’d personally much rather have Nogueira than Edu. Also, I vaguely remember Curtin talking about Yaro as a center back, but maybe (hopefully) there is some flexibility in his views. Also, thank you to the staff of this incredible website, as I’ve learned an enormous amount from you all, and I am in debt to your fantastic reporting. Please let us donate even a little bit, or buy something to support you.

    • Curtin said Yaro sees himself as a centerback and that he agrees.
      Could maybe come off the bench into the midfield from time to time to close out games, but it sounds like the plan is at centerback.
      Yaro and Richie would be one of the most athletic pairing in the league.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    Man Adam…you are the MVP of this joint. Time. and. Again.
    ….’you’ are the media that is so important to the growth of US Soccer in this country. Hard questions need to be asked from POVs that are unconcerned about the ruling elite of US Soccer; put their feet to the fire time and time again… create a ground swell against Sunil Gulati… cause so much heat and pressure that he is forced to step down- topple the systrem form the top down.
    I am a big proponent that one of the reasons things are not changing is because our ‘national’ soccer media are culpable and generally a bunch of ass clowns incapable of forcing our governing bodies and general audience to take a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory.’
    ….of what it is that is happening or not happening at our national team level and trickling down to the local level. The media is the engine of change but not with the current crop of ‘reporters’ save the fringe voices crying out in the wilderness.
    Not sure how you earn your living but maybe a rethink is in store.. you certainly have the portfolio and have contributed for free long enough… your POV and analysis is simply too strong… for this to be a hobby IMO. Then again maybe becoming part of the culpable ass clowns would render your POV moot… hmm… shit.

    • The last two words!
      Wit, timing and the unforeseen twist is the stuff of comedy. The build up… The crescendo… The pause… The turn… The laugh.

  4. Adam, well done. Thank you. Like others have said more and more frequently, the writers here are such a gift to those who follow PSP. At some point, please consider doing something to allow the grateful to voluntarily support the effort.
    Sell hoodies, shirts, something!
    FRONT: PSP / logo / crest?
    BACK: “The ball is round. The place is Philly.” Plus the website, of course.

    • To El P’s point, wearing PSP stuff would spread the word about PSP, which would further the education of fans and expand the platform of the writers.
      And who knows? Eventually, voices like Adam’s are heard and FELT by enough people that momentum takes over.
      Keep pushing the fly-wheel, PSP!

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