Opinion / Union

Enough potential, the “young” back line needs to grow up

Photo from the PSP Archives

A few months ago, you read in this space about how the defensive players of Philadelphia Union aren’t actually that young. As humans, sure. Once you eliminate the “old” players like Aurélien Collin, Ray Gaddis, and Fabinho, the oldest player on the back line is Jack Elliott at 23. Olivier Mbaizo is two years behind him, with Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty a year further still at just 20.

But as players? They all have solid experience behind them, averaging over three seasons of professional play in the United States. That’s not counting Elliott’s college experience, Mbaizo’s time in Cameroon, or McKenzie or Trusty at the YSC Academy. As proven by their own achievements, these players are not starstruck when asked to defend big-name players, and they’re capable of doing tremendous work keeping the ball out of the net. Unfortunately, they’re also capable of this-

Both centerbacks were marking no one while Doneil Henry went unmarked. And it cost the team a goal. Nevermind the fact that the Union eventually came back to earn a worthy road point, this goal happened because Elliott and Trusty weren’t doing their jobs. And that’s a problem.

Every young Union defender has had moments of brilliance that make you wonder if they could be the Union’s first real young star. Not Freddy Adu, instead the Union version of DeAndre Yedlin. Someone to show fans and the opposition that Philadelphia is capable of producing greatness. And anyone of the players named in this article could do it. But at this point in their careers we have to start asking if they’re going to. Possibility isn’t enough anymore, if this team is going to change the narrative and shift perceptions, they need players like this to step up and deliver.


  1. thank you Jim, well said
    let’s aim a little higher than Yedlin, mk?

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    unfortunately this too seems to be a league issue as ‘overall defending’ in MLS is abysmal to my eye test and the closely vetted network of scrupulous critics I value ‘on the line,’ as Vince Vaughn says in The Wedding Crasher, Dodgeball, Brawl in Cellblock 99 or some other movie with Owen.

  3. Vince Devine says:

    Not exactly fair to say Trusty was marking no one. He’s in that group of players at the top of the box. Vancouver ran an effective “pick play” causing Trusty to take an route around the group to pick up his man a little too late. Wish the Union would create some effective corner kick plays.

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    The real question on Doniel Henry’s goal, for me, is why there was no one on the back post. Had there been a very fine shot might, repeat might, have been saved.
    Did Vancouver fake a short corner to make the zone portion of the corner kick defense rotate forward leaving the back post undefended? that was my impression live at the time.

  5. Pretty harsh commentary considering the defense has allowed 5 goals total in the last 7 games, especially considering the emphasis on driving the wingbacks up the field to help in attack.

    Just about every goal scored in soccer is because someone on the defending side got beat or made a mistake. Whether a defender is old or young, experienced or not, MLS or La Liga, mistakes are made and you get scored on. 5 goals in last 7 games leads to less losses and I hope that as the whole team becomes more and more comfortable in the roles of a new formation, they will tighten up even more.

    As Union fans, there are many many reasons to complain. Complaining that 19/20 year old defenders aren’t yet starters for the National Team is not one of them.

    • +1. As of this writing, the Union are 6th in the league in goals allowed per game. That’s… mighty damn good.

      And it’s not as though they have some stud destroyer CDM sitting in front of them either. You can give some credit to Andre Blake, surely, but Blake hasn’t been standing on his head making dozens of stellar saves so far this season. Because the Union are 1st or 2nd best in the league in shots allowed.

      So I’d have to agree that this is rather Negadelphian. The kids are all right. (Especially my boy Jack Elliott…)

  6. Colin Stein says:

    Think you’re being a bit harsh Jim. “Both centerbacks were marking no one while Doneil Henry went unmarked.”
    From the typical corner “bus stop” routine, Elliott goes with the runner to the near post and Trusty was just a fraction too late, and Henry gets in front of him.

  7. Yeah, this is the same kind of micro-thinking I see from about 75% of the posts here. (See some of the posts from games 1-3 for some laughingly cringe worthy stuff).
    I agree that Trusty probably shouldn’t be ENTIRELY trust-ed just yet, but he’s young talented, and learning. I’ll take him over just about anyone else I’ve seen in that slot in the previous 5-6 years.
    Elliot is solid. Period.
    Wagner is proving to maybe be the best left back the team has ever had. Time will tell.
    Ray is a reliable known.
    This team isn’t threatening the top of the table without this defense.

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