The saying “Trust the process” has been popularized in Philadelphia in recent years by 76ers fans excited by the fruits of the NBA team’s massive rebuild.
Supporters of another Philly pro team in the midst of a youth movement have their own little spin on the saying: “Trusty the process.”
As in Auston Trusty, one of several Philadelphia Union Homegrown players expected to make an important contribution this season — and for many more to come.
“Yeah, I’ve heard [people say that],” Trusty told MLSsoccer.com with a laugh. “I like it. I like it a lot, actually.”
Union head coach Jim Curtin certainly seems to be putting a lot of trust in Trusty, indicating that the 19-year-old will start at center back when the Union open their ninth season of MLS play at home vs. New England on March 3 (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE).
And he might not be the only teenager in Philly’s opening-day lineup. Anthony Fontana, 18, could get the start at the pivotal No. 10 position — depending on if and when the Union sign Czech playmaker Borek Dockal, who Curtin said is currently negotiating a contract with the team in Florida. And depending on the status of Fabinho, who left Wednesday’s preseason game vs. Montreal with a minor hamstring twinge, 18-year-old Matt Real could be deployed at left back, as well.
It wasn’t long ago when all three of those guys, plus fellow Homegrowns Derrick Jones and Mark McKenzie, were making waves at the Union’s growing youth academy, or going to class together at YSC Academy, the Union-affiliated high school.
Now they’re part of an exciting building process for a franchise that has always stressed youth development, but hasn’t always delivered on those promises.
“Honestly, it’s amazing,” Trusty said. “The camaraderie of all of us, it’s a pretty cool thing. We already know each other, we’re all best friends, we always crack each other up. And the chemistry between us, when we come in the game, it’s like nothing has ever changed because we all know how each other plays.
“Since the academy started we’ve all been good friends, and it’s been growing since those days. And now we’re here.”
While Trusty scored in Wednesday’s 5-0 preseason win over Montreal and has, according to Curtin, been “playing at a very high level” throughout preseason camp, some of the more recent Homegrown signings like Fontana and Real have been more inconsistent.
Fontana, who’s been competing with former New York Red Bulls academy player Adam Najem at the No. 10 spot, impressed Curtin by how he “came to life around the goal” in a starting appearance Wednesday, but still needs to learn to “change speeds more” and be more decisive when he turns in tight spots.
Real, meanwhile, certainly learned a lot after coming into the game in a pinch when Fabinho got hurt, including how to deal with wingers who are faster than him and how you can’t get away with trying to dribble out of trouble, as he often did with the academy or USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC.
Oh, and there was one more thing he learned.
“He asked me if he could use the bathroom before he went in,” Curtin said. “I said, ‘No, that’s not an option.’ There are little things guys are now recognizing for the first time. These are big moments, big opportunities, and guys are stepping up.”
Each Homegrown is on his own track. It seems likely McKenzie will spend much of the year in Bethlehem, while Jones, who played over 700 MLS minutes last year, will be a top defensive midfield reserve behind veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. Yet the fact that all of the Philly kids are in Philly together is an exciting part of the franchise’s process.
And what would it mean for any of them to wear the Union badge and start the MLS opener in front of their hometown fans?
“It would mean everything,” said Trusty, who was signed out of YSC Academy in August of 2016 but has yet to play an official MLS minute. “It would be an honor. I’d be representing more than the Philadelphia Union but also the Philadelphia Union academy. That would be a pretty big step for everybody.”