As Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie spend this week with the U.S. under-23 national team, it is worth taking a measure of the two Union centerbacks’ seasons so far.
They have not gone according to expectations. But it is also fair to ask if those expectations were perhaps more wishful than they should have been for two young players.
At the start of the season, there was reason to believe that at least one of the two players would be sold abroad at some point this season. Trusty played every minute of every game but one in 2018, and has been on the international radar since playing at the Under-17 World Cup in 2015. McKenzie was primed to start alongside him, and to captain the U.S. at this year’s under-20 World Cup.
McKenzie’s year barely got off the ground in the first place. He suffered an ankle injury in the preseason and a concussion in March, then contracted appendicitis just before the World Cup.
Though McKenzie seemed to be back at full health before he left, it turned out he wasn't, and that kept him off the field for much of the tournament. Jack Elliott took his place in the Union's lineup and has yet to surrender it. Only in the last few weeks, after Trusty was benched, did McKenzie finally make his first MLS start, on Aug. 26 against D.C. United.
McKenzie played so well in that game that he earned another start a week later, in the Union’s season-defining win over Atlanta United. He played well in that game, too.
It’s a reminder that not all hope is lost, even when it seems to be, and that depth charts can in fact change during a season.
The door is still open for Trusty, too.
"He's a big reason why we're in first place as well," Curtin said. "We're fully confident that Trusty will bounce back and be back in the mix at some point soon. ... It's never just linear. There's going to be some highs and lows."
If McKenzie or Trusty — or Brenden Aaronson or Matt Freese, who are also with the U.S. U-23s right now — can make the team for next year’s Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament, that will bring a huge boost in exposure. The event always draws a small army of scouts. And of course, playing at the Olympics brings a spotlight unlike any in the world.
The Union have been ready and waiting to sell for a while. They still are, even amid this season's unprecedented success.
“If the moment comes at the right time, we will be smart but aggressive in that first sale, because it is important for the club,” Curtin said. “I think now more eyes are certainly on our games [since] we’re in first place, so that is a real positive. There’s a lot more European scouts that are coming to watch us. ... We want to win first here, but when the moment does come, I’m still confident that those guys will have big value in Europe.”