Raves / Union

Raves: Jack Elliott, a center back with the passing vision

Photo: Paul Rudderow 

Editor’s note: In Philadelphia, we’re all familiar with rants about sports. So once a year, PSP’s writers take several days to just flat out rave about players. They may not be the best players, but they’re players we like. Here’s another one in our Raves series.

Here’s a rhetorical question for you: Is being tactical related to being versatile?

In Jack Elliott’s case, it’s more of a cause-and-effect relationship. He’s versatile because he’s tactical. He can break down plays, create plays, and, because of that mental skill, he adapts and can fill multiple roles or fill one role in a way that covers various skill sets as one of the better passing center backs in MLS.

We’ve seen him defend, be an aerial presence, distribute passes widely and often via the long ball, and even net his share of goals. Last year, he finished third in MLS Rookie of the Year voting and was  PSP’s Newcomer of the Year, and this year, he has earned multiple MLS Team of the Week awards.

Let’s flash back to the 2017 SuperDraft. After being drafted 77th overall, he was pretty much written off as the defender who was going to have to prove himself with Bethlehem. Turns out Elliott was a hidden gem that the Union thought was more like a sparkly rock.

Fast forward a bit to when he played defensive midfield for Bethlehem in 2017. This was Elliott’s first professional game. His time spent at West Virginia University was solely as a defender, kicking the ball up the field. He was not a midfielder. But everyone easily saw that he could set up a goal-scoring play with one pass. His passing vision was highlighted with a brand new, bright yellow highlighter: 72.7 percent success rate, often using the long ball. Completing 48 out of 66 passes that match, one of them led to a goal for the Steel. First career game, first career assist.

Throughout the 2017 season, Elliott played 30 games for the Union, making 29 starts. He caught a lucky break when center backs in front of him got hurt, but his maturity and ability to analyze the game allowed him to seize the moment and keep his spot. Elliott’s mental skills helped him seize whatever opportunity he could get. Being tactical (and a strong passer) led to being versatile.

Now jump to this season, Saturday, Aug. 11, in Gillette Stadium. Remember that match against New England? Elliott started as center back and scored a brace off of a set piece, a very rare feat. So rare, it was the first brace ever scored by a defender in Union history.

He continued to shock us all, scoring another goal that game, again off of a Union set piece. No, he wasn’t just in the right place at the right time, he read the situation and was able to put himself in a strategic position to redirect the ball into the back of the net. More of a gem than the Union realized.

In his two years with the Union, Elliott has scored a total of three regular season goals. Not a record, but not bad for someone on the back line. This season, Elliott leads all Union defenders in goals scored with two, followed by Trusty and Rosenberry at one goal each.

Elliott is on track for another solid season for the Union this year. He’s started 16 matches, contributed to multiple clean sheets, and was named to the MLS Team of the Week four times. His passing continues to draw notice. So to misquote Batman: The Dark Knight, Jack Elliott is the center back the Union deserve and definitely need right now.

2 Comments

  1. Nice piece. I love me some Jack Elliott. I was kind of annoyed when he lost his starting spot earlier in the season. McKenzie did play quite well in his stead, I must say; but Elliott gives you a dimension that is lacking in most CBs.

  2. Kudos to Sara for noticing Elliott’s game with the Steel in 2017 at Goodman against Cincy.
    .
    Not only did he play DCM. He found Cory Burke deep on the left flank from which Burke drew the red card in the box that resulted in the PK that opened the scoring. The upset of the Blue & Orange sent a message that this was not 2016’s Bethlehem Steel, most importantly to Bethlehem themselves.
    .
    Every since that match I have wondered about Elliott as a DCM infant of Trusty and McKenzie.
    .
    Fairness demands that I acknowledge that for the vast majority of his excellent performance FC Cincy was a man down.
    .
    I would still love to see the experiment.

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