USL - Philadelphia Union II

Union Academy graduation highlights Bethlehem Steel brotherhood

 Photos courtesy of Nate Szwerdszarf of YSC

Graduation from high school remains a major milestone in the lives of young people in the United States of America. It occurs as they are becoming legal adults, meaning there are fully responsible for their actions to both enjoy and regret the fruits thereof.

“ … so they don’t miss out … ”

Two Bethlehem Steel players graduated early from the Philadelphia Union Academy due to pending international obligations.

Defenders Mark McKenzie and Matt Real both said their farewells to the school Friday, in advance of the June 16 graduated scheduled for the rest of their senior class. Each graduate addressed the audience and thanked their coaches, teachers, teammates, schoolmates and then their parents and families. It’s not clear yet what obligations will be taking them overseas, but it’s without question that these are two of the brighter stars of the academy and worth watching.

The ceremony reflected the brotherhood of teammates competing against each other for the same long-term opportunities, as they cooperate to make each other better students and players in the short-term. It is a brotherhood of both competition and cooperation, one that even the school’s headmaster referred to during the ceremony.

Bethlehem Steel practiced Friday at YSC Academy in Wayne. The advance explanation was so that the two players would not be late to their graduation ceremony.

Bethlehem Steel players celebrated the high school graduations of two of their teammates, Union Academy students Mark McKenzie and Matt Real.

The real explanation was so that all players and coaches could surprise their teammates by attending the ceremony.

The academy and the Steel on the field

The YSC Academy class of 2017 has had a significant impact on the Bethlehem Steel this year.

  • After a lengthy recovery from a soft tissue injury suffered in the preseason, Matt Real has begun to start at left back. Coach Brendan Burke praised the game he played against Harrisburg as his best, and PSP agrees, as a dangerous City Islanders’ attacker, Johnny Mendoza, had only a limited impact on the game.
  • Last fall when the Steel signed Hugh Roberts, most assumed Roberts and Auston Trusty would be the usual Steel 2017 center back pair. But Mark McKenzie has changed that as he has made the pair into a trio, giving coach Burke a problem that the coach has been contemplating since at least February. It is possible that he is giving Ernie Stewart a similar headache because, as August approaches and his matriculation to Wake Forest looms, Philadelphia Union must make a decision on whether to sign him and retain him for Bethlehem or let him move on to college.
  • Josué Mongé has been youthfully competent at center midfield, starting or subbing as needed, depending on what Union loanees have come down to get game minutes. He fits in smoothly with the group, knows his responsibilities and belongs on the field with the adult professionals — until his young engine begins to flag at the hour mark.
  • This year, Dawson McCartney has advanced from the versatile practice fill-in that he was during preseason to two consecutive central midfield Steel starts. He illustrates perfectly why constant assessment and re-assessment of younger players is essential in player development. While the cliché “come out of the woodwork” is overly dramatic, the idea applies here. Dartmouth will get more minutes than they expected.
  • Justin McMaster has seen some game minutes as a substitute this year. He is behind fellow flank midfielders Marcus Epps and Santi Moar whom the Union selected in the most recent draft. He has also contended with injury.
  • And it is worth mentioning that when PSP watched Steel practice this past Thursday, the class of 2018’s Anthony Fontana was back as a full participant. He reportedly played 30 minutes in the previous day’s scrimmage against the Union itself.

And then there are the goalies

In 2017 there are sufficient, good quality academy goalkeepers that the Steel have signed none to their own roster. Tomas Romero, Matt Freese and Jahmali Waite have all backed up Jake McGuire and John McCarthy.

Tomas Romero started the season opener against Rochester and is the only academy keeper to see game time for the Steel. But the number of game appearances by academy keepers will increase while the names might change.

When Andre Blake goes off to the Caribbean Cup semifinals with Jamaica at the end of June and then immediately to the Gold Cup in July, Jake McGuire will not be available to the Steel.

So an Academy man will probably start in the Steel net — the only question being which one.

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