In order to have a plan, you must start with a vision. The 2016 Philadelphia Union have already had 10 players at the age of 25-years or younger compete this season. But that youth movement has generated early success, as the Union sit in first place in the Eastern Conference.
Andre Blake is certainly the focal point for the Union’s young talent. The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft has made human highlight reel saves week after week, but the talent acquired in the 2016 draft is what has built momentum for the Union. Philadelphia technical director Earnie Stewart spoke about his excitement after the draft.
“We're very happy with what we achieved otherwise, we would not have made the moves that we did," Stewart said. "In the end, we got what we wanted. We are trying to build a foundation with the Philadelphia Union."
Building a foundation is exactly what Stewart did. Philadelphia acquired three of the first six picks in the 2016 draft. With the No. 2 pick in the draft, the Union selected Josh Yaro a defender from Georgetown. Moments later with the No. 3 pick, Philadelphia selected Yaro’s college teammate, defender Keegan Rosenberry. Rounding out the trifecta was a striker from Creighton, Fabian Herbers, who was selected at No. 6.
There has been zero issue building familiarity with the three first round picks. Yaro and Rosenberry were teammates at their alma mater and Herbers currently lives with Rosenberry. Their continuity is evident on the pitch. The three made their first start together against Vancouver.
They have combined for 2,670 minutes of action this season in MLS play, with Rosenberry playing every minute. He is the only Union player and MLS rookie to accomplish that.
Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin praised Rosenberry for his play and what he’s been able to do this season.
“I think Keegan is a very, very good right back. His soccer IQ is the first thing that I go to,” Curtin said. “Incredibly smart player, studies the game, studies the other teams, knows the league well. He’s running with his time on the field right now. He’s contributing in a big way, sometimes through assists and setting up goals. I’m happy with where he’s at.”
Yaro made his first start in memorable fashion. After an injury to Ken Tribbett, Yaro made his MLs debut in front of 39,000 fans in Seattle. Although the Union left Seattle with a loss, Curtin was more than happy with Yaro’s performance.
“Strong game from Josh. As tough of an assignment as you can get, dealing with Jordan Morris and dealing with Clint Dempsey,” Curtin said. “I thought he did well. Physically, there was never a question in my mind about him being ready.”
Herbers had mostly been used as a sub this season, but like Yaro an injury allowed Herbers to grab the spotlight. Herbers made his first MLS start against Columbus Crew SC on June and went on to score his first MLS goal that would turn out to be the game-winner.
Despite the praise for his first MLS goal, Herbers was extremely humble when talking about his achievement.
“I got a great pass from Ilsinho, It was on a counter attack and he put me through very well, and I cut it with my left so the defender was gone,” Herbers said. “I could have played Ilsinho back or Quillo [Barnetta] as well but I’m a striker and I just go for it. Luckily it went in the far corner.”
The trio has made their impact in their own ways this season and it’s no coincidence the Union are at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference. Stewart and Curtin have a vision for their rookies and their club, and the vision of success is turning into a reality.