Philadelphia Union are 12 weeks into the 2016 MLS season and sit at the top of the Eastern Conference. Now there are a lot of reasons why they are there, but one of the biggest has been the influx of youth within the squad.
“They are young, [and] young legs do recover quicker than old legs, that is a fact,” head coach Jim Curtin said. I think it’s a huge difference. I think back, and we get in these arguments all the time, some of the old D.C. United teams, some of the old Chicago fire teams, would they go out in today’s league and dominate? I think I have days where I believe yes, I still think they could, but then I step back and go, “These kids are taking care of their bodies in ways that we didn’t even know existed,” you know?”
The backline of Philadelphia is arguably one of the best in the league, especially at home behind the Sons of Ben. The defense, along with Andre Blake in goal, have kept three clean sheets and given up just four goals at home. They are currently one of only two teams in the Eastern Conference to have an unbeaten record at home.
“So, yeah, with Keegan [Rosenberry], he can turn around and play two quick games, I don’t think that’s a factor. Ken Tribbett is also very young and getting back to 100 percent. Marquez is kind of a physical specimen, bench presses more than probably most NFL linebackers [laughs], but he’s a handful, his body can take it.
The physical prowess of the young talent has helped the Union get through their gruesome early season schedule. The ability of the young players to turn around within three or four days and continue to perform at a high intensity has helped the Union rise to the top.
“You look back at the center backs of my day and we were all a little…we’ll just call it pudgy,” Curtin said. “I think there were still incredible players, but the running that these guys do now, and the weight lifting, and the training, and the eating right, it was things that weren’t thought about as much in my day.
The aforementioned 25-year-old Andre Blake is poised to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league. With 38 saves made so far in the season, Blake’s 74.5 save percentage is also the best amongst all goalkeepers who have played at least 12 games. His 1.08 goal against average has also turned some heads around the league.
“And Andre, obviously, the goalkeeping position isn’t as much maybe the physical, but the mental part is hard on those guys, so he’s playing at an incredibly high level, too,” Curtin said.
Rosenberry, 22, is a candidate for the MLS Rookie of the Year, having started a total of 1,170 minutes, which is the most by a rookie in the entire league. That number is also the most on the Union team. He has also scored his first career MLS goal this season.
“Excellent.,” Curtin said. “He’s done great. He’s a young player but, at the same time, you’re seeing him develop. He’s confidence is growing, he’s very good with the ball, and he’s comfortable. Happy for him to get his first goal, that’s always a good confidence builder. He has a real willingness to play out of the back.”
Fellow Georgetown rookie Josh Yaro has been in top form this season as well. Starting seven games so far, he has taken on some of the best forwards in the league, and for the most part, has won the battle.
Richie Marquez and Tribbett are amongst those young legs, who both got their professional start at the USL level and made there way into the Philadelphia Union squad. Both have been able to score their first MLS goals this season. Both of which came at very crucial moments in their respective games.
The ever-growing MLS is getting more challenging by the season, and the incoming youth is revolutionizing the game both on and off the field.
“They do put a real focus on taking care of their bodies, recovery, massages, hot and cold tubs, all the little things that go into monitoring your body to be an elite athlete,” Curtin said. “I think the bar has been raised a great deal since the early days of the league.”
This was a segment of the June 1 edition of the We Are One newsletter. We Are One is delivered bi-weekly to Philadelphia Union fans through email.