Analysis / USL - Bethlehem Steel FC

The Real, McKenzie signings’ implications for the Steel

Image courtesy Philadelphia Union 

While the signings of Matt Real and Mark McKenzie to homegrown player contracts with Philadelphia Union are most directly news about the Union they do affect Bethlehem Steel FC.

First,  the Steel’s USL roster is reduced by one, since Real is removed from it. That means at a minimum, the Steel must now find five more players to meet last season’s minimally required twelve.

Real in action at Lehigh in 2017

More speculatively, on game days, the double signing probably solidifies Bethlehem’s back line, or at least the first working hypothesis of it to be tested in practice and scrimmage. Matt Mahoney is the right back, Brandon Aubrey is the right center back, Mark McKenzie is the left center back, and Matt Real is the left back, unless Josh Yaro is in need of game minutes to bring him into game condition.

 

McKenzie scrimmaging the Union last March

There is only one known depth piece for the back line at this point and that is Nyk Sessock behind Mahoney. Coach Burke needs to find at least two other defenders because both Real and McKenzie have been in what is now the US Mens U-20 youth national team in the past and may very well miss time with that side again. Most recently both were called to the Youth National Team Summit Camp led by Tab Ramos earlier this month.

McKenzie has now tried college soccer and college classes for himself. He has probably discovered that he is well equipped to pursue further academic training on his own thanks to YSC Academy, and that the quality of his soccer development is better with the professionals of the Union organization than it was with the collegians.

Real plays a position of scarcity, and the Union are protecting their investment in him against interest from other quarters. There is no question he grew tremendously last year from preseason to the playoffs. There is also no question that he has more growing to do, particularly to become a consistent offensive threat at left back. He will work on that every day in practice with the Union and on game days with the Steel.

It is entirely possible that in 2019 or 2020 the Union backline will have three academy products playing in it, maybe even starting. Auston Trusty would be the third.

The Union’s roster now numbers 26. Because they again qualify to carry 31 players — they now have six that are homegrown — one of the 31 must not count against the MLS maximum of 30 because he will be loaned for the entire season to the Steel. Last year that was Jake McGuire who — we think — sat the Union bench under the provisions of the “emergency hardship, goalkeeper” roster rule. Since Real has 20 total professional appearances with 19 starts; and McKenzie 9 appearances with 8 starts, they are candidates for that role in 2018 if McGuire does not repeat it.

Writer’s late note: Working from the MLS website’s version of the 2017 salary cap roster for the Union, it is possible that the two off-cap rosters, slots 24-31, are full. That suggests that the Union draft picks are targeted to the Steel, because it seems unlikely that a late rounder from this coming Sunday would make the first team senior roster.

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