Players to watch

Player to watch: Keegan Rosenberry

Photo by Paul Rudderow

There isn’t much traffic on the road to the bench from the MLS All-Star team. Philadelphia Union right back Keegan Rosenberry got there very quickly in 2017.

Looking outside in, Rosenberry’s year was truly puzzling. After a groundbreaking rookie season in which he played every single minute of every match, he was practically nowhere to be found. Coach Jim Curtin was flooded with questions throughout the summer, but mostly pointed to Ray Gaddis simply winning the job.

“Playing time is earned during the week in training,” Curtin said in August. “We’re looking for him (Rosenberry) to continue to improve each and every day in training, first and foremost, and then ultimately he’ll get an opportunity back with the 11 when that situation presents itself.”

By the time that happened, it was August 20th against the San Jose Earthquakes and Rosenberry hadn’t played in the 13 prior matches, dating back to May 17. He also seemingly only came on as a substitute because  Giliano Wijnaldum was injured and Gaddis moved over to the left side.

It was back in the lineup a week later where Rosenberry played very well in a long-awaited start against Atlanta United.

“Keegan was very proactive on the night,” Curtin said after the 2-2 draw. “He was aggressive with his defending, made early decisions with the ball, and connected his passes. It was a really strong performance for him and we’re happy with him after some time off, a layoff, to bounce back with a game like that. It’s important and something we knew he was capable of and want to see more of.”

So, what exactly was behind this layoff? Was it simply Gaddis playing well? To his credit, Gaddis did that consistently. He’s a physically gifted outside back that specializes in one-on-one defense. At the same time, Rosenberry provides more going forward. He makes overlapping runs and whips in crosses that are less common for Gaddis. He was also runner-up in the 2016 rookie-of-the-year voting and was selected into the Fan XI.

Losing your job is one thing, but losing it after such a dynamite rookie season begs a lot of questions. It was almost as if something behind the scenes went down — something totally unrelated to soccer that wasn’t made public. We may never know if anything secretive went into the hiatus and it may just be in the books as a sophomore slump.

Thinking it over

Overall, it’s unclear exactly what the Union lost without Rosenberry this season, if anything. On paper, Curtin lost the aforementioned attacking ability, but it’s also possible Gaddis provided a more consistent defensive presence. We don’t know what he saw in training throughout the season and we don’t know what kind of difference Rosenberry would have made.

The other key aspect of this situation, though, is how it all affected Rosenberry himself. Historically, Curtin has been firm in his lineup choices and has stuck with slumping players for extended periods of time. This was clear with a struggling Andrew Wenger at the end of his tenure in Philadelphia and it was even more clear this season with Chris Pontius. Albeit in a different position than his 12-goal onslaught in 2016, Pontius didn’t score until September 23 and yet he remained in the starting lineup for months.

That’s not to say he didn’t provide anything else, but to Rosenberry, it’s all the same. Why wasn’t he given more chances to prove himself after such a great rookie year? What does sitting out almost the entire season do to his confidence? There’s no question he can learn from such an experience, but at some point it may simply be harmful.

Take this now infamous tweet for instance:

It’s not totally clear what Rosenberry meant by this tweet and it was quickly deleted, but because of his situation, followers assumed he was frustrated with being on the bench so often. Maybe that wasn’t at all what he had in mind and maybe it wasn’t controversial at all, but he was still suspended for it. Curtin found it unprofessional and it may have dampened his chances of playing even more.

Views on the message will vary, but you’ve got to think that if Rosenberry was a regular in the starting 11 and was preparing for a match, he wouldn’t have tweeted anything less than an hour before tap.

Pressing forward

Heading in to next season, Rosenberry is one of the most interesting Union players to keep an eye on. The club picked up the option on both his and Gaddis’ contract, which could mean beneficial competition or more confidence draining. Here are three scenarios for 2018.

  1. Rosenberry simply doesn’t recover — not in Philadelphia, anyway. If his confidence is shot, the last thing he wants is a long offseason to think about it. Maybe he comes back to training still out-of-whack mentally and isn’t performing his best. It could potentially spiral out of control and would become fixable only in a totally new environment.If Gaddis is starting on opening day, the questions will be back with force.
  2. Rosenberry responds. Perhaps all of this was nothing but motivation — motivation to prove everyone wrong and get his job back. One quick way to end this story would be to take the RB spot back and play well to start the season. At the end of the day, Rosenberry is still just 23. He has miles ahead of him and bumps in the road are common for any young player.He’s proven he can be a viable defender in MLS. Now he just has to prove he can do it again.
  3. Somewhere in between. Maybe this is the most likely scenario. Maybe Rosenberry has a solid offseason and impresses Curtin enough to warrant some starts. At this point, even some minutes off the bench would probably do him a world of good. He doesn’t necessarily have to be stellar like his rookie season. He just has to be a solid option that sees the pitch consistently. A lot of that isn’t up to him, which is precisely why Union supporters will be watching closely.


  1. the only shot Rosenberry gets is after Jim goes.
    i have no confidence in Curtin to foster this talent.

  2. I look forward to reading this same piece about Jack Elliott next year.


    Jim Curtin sucks.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Infuriatingly accurate

      • Or he could improve like Sapong, Fabinho, Gaddis. I mean some players are going to get better and some are going to get worse. Can’t blame the coach for players regressing and not give credit for the players improving. Personally I think Keegan has coasted on his first half of his rookie year.

  3. For a team dedicated to youth in tone, Rosenberry’s situation is a poor look. It’s impossible not to lay some blame at the feet of the coaching staff for squandering his talent. I’m sure Rosenberry is not guiltless, but a good coach has to be able to work with the player to avoid what appears to be going on right now — a lack of faith on both sides in the other.

    Also, everyone should read Christian Pulisic’s piece in The Players Tribune on youth. The Union and the rest of the country are way behind the curve on this. While US soccer players are heading to the prom, Europeans are fighting for roster sports.

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    wait wait wait….let me guess, Sophmore Slump.
    It is a stunning sense of entitlement many people have regarding placing this at the foot of Jim Curtin. And I am again on record arguing his many shortcomings as a manager but here’s an idea….
    …it is ENTIRLEY possible and actually more certainly plausible, the player was exactly where he deserved to be this season… and this ‘tweet’ above highlights the true nature of the player with which the manager has seen and managed for 18 months.
    Last to arrive. First out of the locker room.

    …go ahead and keep on blaming whoever— except the player himself.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I bet if we asked Christian Pulisic, he’d likely say those two words too… Sophomore Slump.

      Shortcomings to his game or not, Ray Gaddis outworked him- PERIOD. I repeat Ray Gaddis OUTWORKED HIM.
      Let us observe the mentality young master RB brings to his training this offseason & this pre season. If he’s learned anything my guess is the fire under his ass is well stoked, less he just doesn’t burn —– which is my contention 100%.

      • What percentage of your posts do you actually believe? I’m guessing somewhere around 25-30% as most of your rants are typically a proxy for some other larger issue like the closed US soccer pyramid, college soccer, etc.

        Yes, the international break and Union offseason are both so uninteresting that I’ve resorted to posting this type of comment out of sheer boredom. Forgive me.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Depends on whether I am posting to strike up debate and conversation or posting to vent.

  5. “Ray is our starting right back,” Jim Curtin 2014(?)

  6. Pulisic wrote that players such as this should be playing and not sitting on the bench. How much did he end up playing for Bethlehem? And if he did not play due to his attitude at practice then Curtin is to blame for not correcting that quicker: should not take all season!

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Actually, I see KR as the ramification of the softness Christian discusses in his article. In a more accountable footy culture, Keegan would have been weeded out YEARS ago.
      Or its Jim Curtin’s fault.

  7. Ugh, I think he is loosing it again. Everyone is oh so tough in the stands. Ho-hum.

  8. Time to start TEACHING young guys how to play better, Not asking them to “Show me in practice”, In itself a bankrupt concept.

  9. Quaker Shiker says:

    Every minute of 2016, then in 2017 he sits for months on end? Come on! I wouldn’t let my car sit that long without starting it. Why didn’t Jim Curtin bring him out for the second half of a game every third week? What happened to the Union depth at every position in 2017? What kind of method is this to develop our young players? The first WIN of 2017 was because Jim Curtin was forced to make an early substitution, { 56 minute } because of an injury. Sorry but I still think the problem is our coach.

  10. OneManWolfpack says:

    I don’t believe KR played much at all for Bethlehem during his “layoff”… but correct me if I am wrong. With that said, it’s a flat out, fire-able offense to keep one of your draft picks, who was a USMNT call-up and All-Star the previous year on the bench for that long. If I am correct in saying he didn’t play for the Steel, then what good is he sitting on the bench?! Dr K made a good point – teach… don’t say “show me”. It’s bullshit. Curtin can’t teach so he says show me. If this ruined KR the Union will be worse for it.

    • Can’t teach desire and killer instinct.

    • Tim Jones might know and kudos if he does and chooses to not gossip.
      But thought running thru my head was that to have a usmnt call up and play every minute last year…time at Bethlehem could be seen by the player as a slap rather than opportunity to refine skills. KR may have refused…Burke may have refused. No idea.
      So Tim, how did KR do with Bethlehem when he played?
      Was he clearly better man on team or mediocre?
      Ultimately I think El P is wrong about KR being weak mentally or otherwise. The tweet was intentional…meant to get message across…play me or let me leave.
      Right or wrong no different from many other athletes like Cole Hamel a few years back or Bryant on Steelers.
      Hope Curtin let’s him leave as no matter why…team and KR are clearly no longer good fit and in this case divorce best solution.

  11. For all of the calls for Jim Curtin’s head, the Rosenberry fiasco is the most telling. Whatever his issue with Keegan, he should have played some soccer this year, either with Steel or the U. To make the 18 and sit your ass week in and week out after his success last season is a complete mind f***, and not an easy thing to overcome for the athlete. Those at this level in any sport come to realize that the mental side of the game, including your workouts, pregame, diet, mental health, mindset make the difference. They are all athletes, and Curtin really screwed this up.

    • Unless he’s basically walking though practice while others are busting their buts out there. If someone at work was naturally better than you but never tried at all and wasn’t doing a great job you would be pissed if they kept getting all the praise/good projects to work on. While I do think the talent should play sometimes the talent just gets so outworked it’s not worth it. I’m not saying that is what happened here because I don’t know but it’s not impossible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *