When Kai Wagner was shown red late in the Union’s victory over Montreal last weekend, homegrown left back Matt Real was preparing for the other match of the scheduled doubleheader. The 19-year old ended up going ninety minutes for Bethlehem Steel against Indy Eleven, but the big question at the end of the day was whether he had done enough to secure a starting spot against Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend.
“My mindset doesn’t change, because I go into the Steel games with the same mentality and for me every weekend with the Steel is a chance to show the coaching staff I should be with the first team the next weekend,” Real told PhiladelphiaUnion.com after Wednesday’s training session. “Whether Kai gets the red card or not, I have to go out there and put on the same performance I had put on before, so nothing changed from my standpoint.”
Real is the most natural choice to slot in as Wagner’s replacement. Like Wagner, he is a left footed fullback; he also has experience gained from an injury sustained to Fabinho in 2018.
“I definitely learned a lot," Real said of those MLS minutes. "It was a big moment for me because of all the years I’ve been a part of this team and it finally paid off with that big game where I got to start.
“There were some positives, there were some negatives but I really took a step back and looked at the year I had last year and overall I thought it was a good year development.”
As Real played his sixth match of 2019 on loan with Steel FC, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin was in the stands along with U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos. While both coaches saw the positives, they still saw opportunities for growth.
“A kid that going forward with the ball has a real knack and talent level to keep possession, get crosses in, be aggressive in getting forward,” Curtin said at his midweek press conference. “We still both want him to work more on defending forward so not back pedaling as a defender but being aggressive and winning balls. I think he’s improved drastically at that over the past year and the games with the Steel have helped him.
As Real and the Union prepare for the long cross-country trip to Vancouver this weekend, Curtin said the club will put out the best defensive lineup the staff can assemble for the contest to leave with three points. Whether or not Real is in the lineup, he’s just preparing for the next match like always.
“As many minutes as I can get, I’ll never take them for granted. Those minutes are for me to showcase my ability as well as develop myself at that level. I feel like the past year has really prepared me for whatever is thrown at me whether that is a chance this weekend starting, on the bench or if I’m playing with the Steel again. For me, I always have to be prepared for the club and that’s the most important.”
As he collects his cleats, he looks up. “Whether I get a start this weekend or I start in two months, I’ll be ready 100 percent.”
Real and the Union take the field against Vancouver at 5 p.m. ET this Saturday, live on PHL17