Mckenzie goes from Wake Forest bench to Union stalwart

“The World Turned Upside Down” is the song played by Lord Cornwallis’s army’s band as they surrendered to Washington and Rochambeau at Yorktown, Va. in September 1781 effectively securing victory in the War for Independence.

The song’s title is also an interesting subtext to:

  • the recent set of matches between the New York Red Bulls organization’s first and second teams,
  • their Keystone Sports and Entertainment’s counterparts
  • both groups most recent mutual signings from Wake Forest University,
  • and the fact that the Union’s man just made MLS’s 13th 2018 Team of the Week.
Two collegiate roles

Close observers of all things Union remember that about this time last summer, Academy graduate Mark McKenzie enrolled in summer school at Wake Forest University, a choice not surprising when you consider his father is a college professor and that Mark himself is an excellent, naturally curious student with a firm grasp on reality and his own long-term future.

McKenzie matriculated, took classes, made Wake’s men’s soccer team, but sat the bench behind senior Kevin Politz, a homegrown player from New York Red Bulls, until Politz went down with an injury. McKenzie stepped in to finish the season that ended against eventual national champion Stanford in the NCAA tournament.

Two professional ones

Both men then signed with their respective professional clubs.  We assume Politz did so because his college eligibility was over. We suspect McKenzie did so because the Union offered both better soccer and a way to further his educational development while simultaneously playing and earning the money to pay for it.  The university’s discounted rate for MLS players did not hurt the idea, we suspect. (Readers may recall the club’s recently announced internet partnership with Southern New Hampshire University.)

Since joining Red Bulls, Politz has started 3 times for division 2 Red Bulls II, appearing once additionally as a substitute, and dressing for the other 7 USL games for a total of 305 farm team minutes. Given how he is classified on the Red Bulls roster on the MLS website and the roster rules, he seems to have been loaned by his first team to USL for the entire season without meaningful possibility of recall. He has to bide his time and work his way up.

But in a 180 degree reversal of their collegiate roles, McKenzie has made 5 appearances — 4 starts — for division 1 MLS’s Union totaling 398 first team minutes, in addition to 2 earlier farm team 90 minute starts for the USL’s Bethlehem Steel  and 1 for the U. S. Under-20 Men’s National team in Spain in March.

While there are many factors that would explain the short-term reversal of the two men’s fortunes, primary among them being the different injury circumstances of the two MLS clubs, the reversal also reflects the traditional psychology necessary to run a college roster. Wake’s coach probably traditionally assumed that 2018 was Politz’s senior season and that McKenzie needed to pay his respectful dues watching from the bench. Such a message reassures other hardworking program aspirants — like Union Academy alums Joey DeZart and Justin McMaster — that their times will come.

But in this specific case the approach backfired and the world now stands on its head.

Study the center backs’ faces, please!

Recognize anybody in the back line?

Through its cutting-edge partnership with a university online program, the Union offered strong academics to a collegian its academy had already trained in the mechanics of remotely-accessed self-education.

An NCAA soccer program cannot hold a candle to the training offered by a professional one given the NCAA’s various restrictions.

And we should also mention the detail that Academy’s Head of School commits herself to providing advice and support to any Union or Steel player concerning the academic course work available through the online university program. It is an especially comfortable request for alumni of Richie Graham’s school since all parties already know, understand, and trust one another.

No wonder McKenzie came home. And now he has earned MLS Team of the Week, with the gently delicious, added irony that it is for a performance against the New York Red Bulls division 1 side his Wake Forest teammate cannot  make.

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