Monday morning started off like any other for the newest member of the Philadelphia Union, defender Austin Berry.
He woke up in Arizona, the current site of preseason for the Chicago Fire with the intention to join his former teammates for another round of morning training.
Breakfast first, then back to his hotel room, change into training gear, head to the lobby to catch the bus to training – an atypical routine, one he’s done for the past two seasons.
“About 10 minutes before I was about to head out to training, the coaches stopped me and told me I’d be traded,” Berry told philadelphiaunion.com. “I had to head back to the hotel, pack up and I was on a 2 p.m. [MT] flight to Florida and now I’m here. The immediacy of it was the hardest part because I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to any of those guys [in Chicago] so it’s been a crazy 24 hours, but everyone has been extremely welcoming. “
Berry received quite the initiation following his first training session in a Union uniform receiving a Gatorade shower while doing his first on-camera interview, a prank that as a result of a hot morning sun was as welcoming as it was unexpected.
“The water cooler treatment actually felt fantastic because it was pretty hot in training, Berry joked. “This is a good move for me. A lot of the guys I am familiar with already just from playing in the Eastern Conference…so it’s a lot of familiar faces. Plus having a guy like [former Chicago midfielder] Corben Bone who I spent the last two years with definitely helps.”
Berry brings the size and leadership the Union coaching staff sought out for much of the offseason. A perennial starter in the league during his stint in Chicago, Berry’s play hasn’t wavered since he wrapped up MLS Rookie of the Year honors in 2012. Ask any of the Union coaching staff why it was important to bring Berry to Philadelphia and you’ll hear that his control of the defensive unit is a plus. Tack that on with size, and his strong abilities in the air, and it apparent Berry has the traits to bolster a defense eager to return to the class of not just the Eastern Conference, but the League.
“Clearly we had a need and a hole in our back line, but I think we’ve been consistent in our messaging that we need the right central defender to come in,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “And when you check off the boxes, Austin is a player that has played nearly every minute for the past two years and that kind of durability game in and game out is extremely important. More so than that, he has qualities that we don’t currently have within our back line; he’s excellent in the air because of his size, he likes to make sure that the line moves together. Those are the principles of how we defend and those are principles he specifically was taught and tries to apply that to his overall game.”
And aside from all of that?
“He’s an extremely good person,” Hackworth continued. “He’s a good pro, I had a lot of conversations with his college coach [Louisville head coach Ken Lolla] even before he came here and along with [Louisville assistant] Brian Maisonneuve and other coaches within the league, there is no question that he is the kind of person and player that we were looking for.”
For Berry, it’s now full speed ahead with his new team as the Union look to wrap preseason on a high against Toronto FC in its penultimate match of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic on Wednesday (1 p.m., watch LIVE on philadelphiaunion.com/live).
“The one thing I have always tried to do is work my [tail] off and just be a hard working guy,” said Berry. “I think I bring a physical presence, I am good in the air and at my position – especially in this league that is very important. Now it’s keeping my head down and trying to learn from other guys on the team and learning the tendencies of other guys around me.”
What do you think about the signing of Berry? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org