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Smallwood: USA call-up caps great year for Union's Keegan Rosenberry

IT'S BEEN an amazing year for Keegan Rosenberry. Last year around this time, Rosenberry was a college senior at Georgetown University. He knew he would be selected in the 2016 MLS draft, but he didn't know how high or by whom.

IT'S BEEN an amazing year for Keegan Rosenberry. Last year around this time, Rosenberry was a college senior at Georgetown University. He knew he would be selected in the 2016 MLS draft, but he didn't know how high or by whom.

The Union had tried to claim Rosenberry, who graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School, participated in their academies and played two summers with development affiliate Reading United, as a "Homegrown" talent, but when MLS declined, new sporting director Earnie Stewart selected the right back No. 3 overall.

Most predraft speculation had Rosenberry projected as being picked in the teens, but Stewart and his staff clearly saw more.

Fast-forward to last week, and prospects for the 2017 draft are at the StubHub Center in Carson City, Calif., trying to improve their status during the MLS combine.

On Wednesday, Rosenberry and Union backline mate Alejandro Bedoya arrived in Los Angeles. They're also headed to the StubHub Center, but it's for the opening of the January camp for the U.S. men's national team.

Bedoya was a member of the 2014 World Cup team, but this is the first national team call-up for Rosenberry at any level.

It caps a 12-month span when he played every minute possible for the Union, was an MLS All-Star and finished second to Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris in the Rookie-of-the-Year race.

Oh, yeah, the 23-year-old also got engaged.

"I think this past year has been one of the most exciting years of my life," said Rosenberry, who started every MLS game for the team. "I think probably the best year that I've had to date.

"I'm just extremely thankful for the opportunities I've been given, dating back to (2016) draft day. I'm thankful for the Philadelphia Union for giving me the opportunity to progress as a player in their organization from Day 1 there.

"There have been other rookies who've come into the league with just as much talent or just as much work ethic as I have, but they don't get a chance to play."

Although there is some element of it here, it is too simple to say Rosenberry was in the right place at the right time.

It's true that with Stewart taking charge just a few weeks before the draft, the Union entered a new phase with all players having an open notebook.

Still, opportunity is what you make of it, and from the first day of training camp, Rosenberry served notice to the Union technical staff that he was a player to be watched.

"Things happen quick in this game," Union manager Jim Curtin said, "and they happen for a reason. They happen to people who earn it and Keegan earned it from Day 1.

"He came in with a great mentality. He's a winner, and he projects a lot of things we want a Philadelphia Union player to be.

"It's been a quick ride, but maybe one that we weren't as surprised about as maybe everybody else."

Perhaps one of the most important moments of Rosenberry's rookie season was also one of his lowest. The Union opened at FC Dallas, which entered as a favorite for the 2016 MLS Cup.

Rosenberry got a harsh introduction to the top flight of soccer in the United States as the speed of Dallas' attackers wreaked havoc on the Union defense.

These are the type of moments that test the conviction of players - especially one making his first MLS start. Some players wallow in what happened, while others pick themselves up and use the lessons learned to improve for the next time.

"The first game for us was a very tough matchup," Rosenberry said. "I think it said a lot about the culture of our team how we bounced back and performed the next couple of matches.

"Each player tries to embody what the organization is about, and I tried to do that as well. It wasn't the best game individually but as a team we rallied around each to come back against Columbus (a 2-1 win in the next game)."

Rosenberry said that first start at FC Dallas help set him up for the rest of the season.

"There's nothing like being out there Opening Day," he said, "and playing in front of a big crowd to settle some of those nerves and be a little more relaxed going into Columbus was big for me. The staff and my teammates were great about helping me through that."

Union fans had heard promises of a change in culture for four seasons without a playoff appearance.

The ZOLOs' quick start reignited the pulse in Talen Energy Stadium and while they faltered down the stretch, they still did enough to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and only the second time in team history.

"In the first half of the season, we were near the top of the Eastern Conference and we played well at home," Rosenberry said. "That does a lot for the fans, the expectations and the culture for the team and the city.

"We could feel that with every home game that we built on and it was really exciting for us. The challenge this year is to continue to build on that and then be more consistent throughout the year."

The Union will open training camp on Jan. 23 and nobody will mind if Rosenberry arrives late. The national team has friendlies against Serbia on Jan. 29 in San Diego and Jamaica on Feb. 3 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Rosenberry has no idea whether he will be a position to earn his first United States cap. New national team coach Bruce Arena, however, is the former longtime coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy and is extremely familiar with MLS talent. He certainly would take notice of a MLS All-Star.

Former national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann never mentioned Rosenberry as a possible candidate.

"The only experience or contact I previously had with the national team was while they were in the Copa America Tournament this summer they played a game at (Lincoln Financial Field)," said Rosenberry. "The day after the game, their reserves trained because they needed a run to stay fit.

"They scrimmaged us and I was asked to play right back for the USA. Other than that, I didn't have any contact from them. I wasn't expecting anything for the end of the year, but I still trained as though I would get called, not knowing what would happen."

Because of the timing of this camp, the foreign-based USA players are in the middle of their club season, so this camp is almost exclusively MLS players. Union midfielder Chris Pontius is also in camp with Rosenberry and Bedoya.

"Having two teammates here has been awesome," Rosenberry said. "I also know a few guys from being at the All-Star week and then going to the MLS Cup match in Toronto.

"That makes a big difference when you come here and at least feel like you've met somebody before. It helps make you feel like you belong. I don't know what will happen going forward but I'm just happy to be a part of it at this time."

Professionally, it's all about what's next for Rosenberry. Because MLS is not the top level of professional soccer, there are competing interests for player, club and national team.

Making a move that is better for one might not necessarily be beneficial to the others.

While MLS is growing in stature, most players Rosenberry's age still dream of someday having the opportunity to test themselves in one of the top leagues in Europe.

Still, Rosenberry is savvy enough now to understand that how he performs now will primarily determine where he may be in the future.

His only focus is making sure his sophomore season with the Union is one of continued growth from his rookie campaign.

"I try really hard to focus a lot on the short-term things that are just ahead of me," Rosenberry said. "Whether the talk out there (is) positive or negative, it doesn't do any good to dwell on that because at the end of the day the only thing that matters is if you are doing your job . . .

"That's what going to yield results, whether that is individual accolades or future opportunities. For me, the idea is to focus on the short term as far as career aspirations. Otherwise, the opportunities that have already come would not have.

"It's easier said than done, but I try to listen to the talk that goes around."

One thing that can be said is that if Rosenberry's upcoming year goes as well as his last one, then 2017 will be a special time for him.