Jim Curtin has said throughout his four years as Union manager that he wants to coach and develop young players. He has heard the "Play Your Kids" rallying cry across Major League Soccer, and he wants to do it.
As the Union begin their ninth season Saturday night, Curtin has his best opportunity yet to turn that dream into reality.
The Union's starting lineup for their season opener against the New England Revolution (7 p.m., PHL17) is expected to have two products of the club's youth academy: central defender Auston Trusty and attacking playmaker Anthony Fontana. Two more academy products, left back Matt Real and central midfielder Derrick Jones, are likely to be on the bench as potential substitutes.
"I've envisioned it since I was a little kid watching the Union play as a fan sitting in the stands," Trusty said.
It will be a monumental step forward for the team when those names are read over the public-address system a few minutes before kickoff. The academy, based at YSC Sports in Wayne, has long been touted as a potential gold mine of talent. Fans have grown tired of the promises they've been given, not least because their team has lost a lot more than it has won over the years.
Now the future has become the present. This year, there will be tangible proof of the academy's progress on the field at Talen Energy Stadium.
"It feels great," Curtin said. "It's a proud moment for the club. … With young players, you have to have trust, you have to have patience, and they've earned this opportunity and right."
Curtin admitted to being a little "nervous," in a way he called "maybe the dad-in-me type of feeling." But he left no doubt that he's ready to turn the players loose.
"You know that they're going to do well, you know that they're going to be set up for success as best you can, but you kind of have to let them do it," he said. "That's the only way they're going to get better, and the only way they're going to learn."
There is symbolism in the fact that all of the aforementioned players have roots in the Philadelphia area. Trusty is from Media; Fontana is from Newark, Del.; Real is from Drexel Hill; and Jones was raised in Southwest Philadelphia after emigrating from Ghana at a young age. They and reserve defender Mark McKenzie, from Bear, Del., have grown up together on and off the field.
"We've all been together since we were really young," Fontana said. "Seeing each other progress and helping each other progress, it's an amazing feeling."
These players have shown behind the scenes that they're ready. Now their time has come to show it on stage.
Saturday, 7 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium
TV/online streaming: PHL17, philadelphiaunion.com locally, MLSSoccer.com nationally. Both online streams will be free of charge.
Series history: Union 10 wins, Revolution 6 wins, 4 ties
At Talen Energy Stadium: Union 6 wins, Revolution 3 wins, 2 ties
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