The latest chapter in the story of Mark McKenzie's stellar rookie season will be written just a few miles from where he was born.
If the Union are able to beat New York City FC at Yankee Stadium for the first time (4:30 p.m. Sunday, PHL17), they'll clinch their first home playoff game in seven years. McKenzie, 19, spent his early years in the Bronx before his family moved to Bear, Del., in 2003.
He traveled by the old Yankee Stadium many times. This weekend, he'll enter the new Yankee Stadium for the first time in his life, and for the biggest game of his pro career to date.
"To clinch a third-place spot potentially just shows how much work we put in this year, and we're still climbing," he said. "I still have a ways to go, but it's been a good run so far this year. I'm looking forward to what we've still got left in this season, and then into the future."
McKenzie has had a fast rise to prominence. After playing a few games for Bethlehem Steel in 2016 and 2017, the Union academy product went to Wake Forest last fall, then left after a year to turn pro in Philadelphia. He was thrust into the spotlight in April when fellow centerback Jack Elliott was hurt, and has looked great in his 20 appearances this season. His feet and positioning are sound, and he has the speed to win almost any footrace. He's likely to be a Rookie of the Year finalist.
Manhattan-born Union winger Fafa Picault has become especially close with McKenzie, and has been impressed by the teenager's talent.
"I didn't know about him until preseason, but when I saw him in preseason, I said this kid has a pretty high ceiling — a very high ceiling," he said.
Even bigger things are to come when the Union's season ends. McKenzie will join the U.S. under-20 national team as it plays in Concacaf's qualifying tournament for next year's World Cup. He has the most professional experience of any of the 20 players on the qualifying roster. The tournament will begin Thursday, but McKenzie has been allowed to join the U.S. team late so he can help the Union's playoff run.
"I think he's an anchor to the defense," U.S. coach Tab Ramos said. "He will make us a lot better when he's on the team."
McKenzie will be a leading candidate to captain the U.S. at the under-20 World Cup if it gets there. He is flattered by the idea.
"It's a blessing, and it's an honor," McKenzie said. "Every time I get called up to rep the crest, to rep the red, white and blue, I don't take it lightly."
Union at New York City FC
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. at Yankee Stadium, New York
Union's record: 15-13-5, 50 points (4th in the East); 6-7-3 on the road
New York's record: 15-10-8, 53 points (3rd in the East); 11-1-4 at home
Series history: New York 4 wins, Union 3 wins, 1 tie
At Yankee Stadium: New York 2 wins, Union 0 wins, 1 tie
New York players to watch
F David Villa: He has been perhaps the best Designated Player in MLS history, with 78 goals in four seasons. The 36-year-old Spaniard's contract will be up after this season. If the Union win, could this be his last game in the Bronx?
M Maxi Moralez: After missing the last two games injured, the Argentine playmaker should be back this weekend. He's just 5-foot-3, but his importance on the field is much bigger.
M Yangel Herrera: The 20-year-old Venezuelan also has been injured lately, and is expected to return. He might be even more important to New York's midfield than Moralez thanks to his defensive hustle.