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Mark McKenzie’s USMNT callup a helpful distraction from Union transfer rumors

McKenzie is likely to see playing time in Wednesday's friendly against El Salvador in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. What happens after that is unknown.

Mark McKenzie is likely to see playing time in the U.S. men's national team's game Wednesday against El Salvador in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Mark McKenzie is likely to see playing time in the U.S. men's national team's game Wednesday against El Salvador in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Mark McKenzie knows he’s in a bit of an odd place.

Though he’s still a Philadelphia Union player, the next club game he plays is probably going to be somewhere else in the world. There’s nothing official yet, and the Union have kept a tight lid on potential destinations. But Ernst Tanner’s remark Wednesday that “at this moment there is nothing on the table” is one you file under “it was true at the time.”

What’s certain is that McKenzie is currently a U.S. national team player, working at the ongoing camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before Wednesday’s game against El Salvador (7:30 p.m., ESPNews, UniMas, TUDN). That’s plenty to occupy a player who has long been good at blocking out external noise about him.

“I can’t really focus on too much else,” McKenzie said. “We’ll see in the coming weeks what everything lines up [as]. But right now it’s just about coming into camp and firing.”

This U.S. camp is almost entirely domestic players after the international contingent gathered last month for a two-game set in Europe. So it won’t be clear where McKenzie stands on a centerback depth chart that’s topped by John Brooks (Wolfsburg, Germany), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich, Germany), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls) and Matt Miazga (Anderlecht, Belgium).

But McKenzie is definitely on the depth chart, and he’s likely to get some playing time Wednesday. He, Long and veteran Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC) are the top centerbacks in this camp. Expect Long to be one of the starters, and McKenzie or Zimmerman to be the other.

» READ MORE: Mark McKenzie and Chris Richards were teammates at last year's Under-20 World Cup

“We see how talented this pool of players is, how many guys we have competing in Champions League football,” McKenzie said. “This is a healthy competition between us all. We all recognize that. I wouldn’t see it in a negative light but only positive, because it just shows us how talented we are, and how deep we are at the position.”

It was pointed out to McKenzie that he’s a veteran on this squad in his own way, even though he’s just 21 and has just one national team cap. Thirteen of the 23 players on this squad have yet to play for the senior national team, and eight are in their first senior camp. A sizable chunk of the roster is younger than McKenzie, too.

“To think I’m more experienced is funny to say,” McKenzie said. “You bring together this group of players coming up who are young and hungry and ready for an opportunity. ... I think that’s a really strong and lethal combination, and it’s only going to help us, especially young guys, going forward.”

One of those young guys is McKenzie’s Union teammate Brenden Aaronson. Wednesday’s game will be their last chance to play together before Aaronson moves to Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg.

“It’s always great to team up with the boy ‘B,’ " McKenzie said, referring to Aaronson. “I’m just really excited to see where he goes on this next journey for him. I’m happy for him, and I’m looking forward to sharing the field with him one more time before we part ways and he takes the next step to Europe.”

» READ MORE: Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie can help Philadelphia achieve a soccer feat not seen since 1934