Centerback Auston Trusty has played a crucial role in the Union's recent surge.
The only man on the roster to play every minute thus far this season, the 6-foot-3 defender's aerial prowess and strong left foot foot are crucial assets for Philly's back line. His steadiness and unflappability have helped the Union keep their ongoing 273-minute, three-game shutout streak intact despite Mark McKenzie's injury absence.
Yet after every practice and game at Talen Energy Stadium, Trusty simply makes a quick 20-minute commute to his family home in nearby Media. And not family as in wife and kids — family as in his parents.
"Everybody around you is going to college … so it's hard because when they come home, they want to do stuff, whereas me, I have practice the next day," said the sudden MLS star, who just turned 20 earlier in August, after training on Friday. "It's a different culture and lifestyle, but I don't regret anything at all."
This is what Trusty chose two summers ago when he gave up an offer to UNC, one of the nation's top collegiate soccer programs, to sign a homegrown contract with the Union — the team he'd been a fan of, regularly attending games, since their very birth. Until this past spring, though, it was unclear how long Trusty's path to actually appearing regularly at the MLS level would be.
A mere few months later, Trusty is one of the league's best young defenders and a stalwart of the hottest team in the country, spearheading the Union's five-game winning streak heading into Saturday's game at last-in-the-East Orlando City (7:30 p.m., PHL17).
"It's not like I have a notebook on how to cover [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic or Wayne Rooney, or I have some a wealth of knowledge I can give him," coach Jim Curtin said. "You prepare these guys as best you can, you see little tendencies from the star players, but as a 20-year-old kid going out there against top-caliber players, he's more than punching above his weight."
Trusty admits he's hard on himself, especially with the technical side of the game (he describes the mental part as his stronger suit), and team veterans Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin and Borek Dockal are full of tough love for him, too. Even Curtin himself isn't unwilling to give an honest assessment of Trusty.
"Does he have the most god-given talent of all the kids all over this country? Absolutely not," he said. "But he wants to get better every day and that has been what's most powerful for him."
Somehow, something has worked.
Trusty has been remarkably consistent all season, avoiding any health or fatigue issues and ranking 18th in MLS in clearances per game. He's also become the club's most frequently marketed player, modeling team apparel in ads and even recording an absurd David Hasselhoff spoof/cover for "90s night."
A local product every step of the way — first with Union-run high school YSC academy, then with Union USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel — Trusty is fast becoming one of the faces of Philly soccer.
"In the Philadelphia area and also in MLS in past years, the Union have been looked past," he said. "And we don't want that. We want to change the culture."
Union at Orlando City
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Union's record: 12-11-3, 39 points (5th in the East); 5-7-1 on the road
Orlando's record: 7-16-2, 23 points (11th in the East); 5-6-2 at home
Series history: Union 3 wins, Orlando 3 wins, 2 ties
At Orlando: Union 0 wins, Orlando 1 win, 2 ties
Orlando players to watch
F Dom Dwyer: Orlando is, frankly, a bad team. The Lions are on a seven-game winless streak, and lost nine straight league games before their last win. But Dwyer is still a major scoring threat, with 11 goals this year.
M Sacha Kljestan: A smart, skilled and surely annoyed central playmaker. The Union will focus on making sure to cut off his passes to Dwyer.
M Yoshimar Yotún: He can play pretty soccer, then level a crunching tackle a moment later. The Peruvian World Cup veteran will try to make the Union suffer in Orlando's heat and humidity.