Mark McKenzie’s sports origin story is pretty ordinary.
He started playing sports when he was little, maybe three or four years old. He enrolled in as many sports as he could at the local YMCA, playing basketball, baseball, soccer, swimming, and many others. He just wanted to play sports, but his parents believed there was one sport he’d take to more than others.
McKenzie was big and tall, even as a child, and he loved to swim. So that was the focus of what he wanted to do in his early childhood. But there was always soccer in the background as well, and the game developed into his first sports love.
“Eventually I weaved my way through and found soccer, which became my first love,” McKenzie said. “Swimming and basketball, they were fun, but I grew into soccer. I felt more comfortable in my own skin and could express myself the best when playing soccer.”
McKenzie played soccer with the YMCA, eventually graduating to club teams before being called up to regional and state teams when he was nine years old, where he won a state championship with Delaware Rush.
“That was a big transition for me,” McKenzie said. “YMCA, I was able to dominate, and then I went to club teams where guys were the same size as me. The pace was faster. But it definitely pushed me.”
By the time he was 11, he had caught the eye of Academy Director Tommy Wilson, who invited McKenzie to join the Union Pre-Academy.
“It was, at the time, the best feeling I had ever had,” McKenzie said. “It was exciting, humbling, but I also knew it was going to be a lot of work to maintain my position. It was a jumpstart to where I am now and where I wanted to go.”
Joining the Pre-Academy was a huge commitment for McKenzie and his family. Still living in Delaware, his parents drove him an hour (one-way) to YSC to train with at the Academy three times a week.
“It was definitely a sacrifice for them,” McKenzie said. “Having to leave work early, or take a day off, something like that. But they knew ultimately that if I wanted to pursue my dream of playing professional soccer, we had to put in a lot of hours. I’m extremely grateful for them to give me that push and drive to do whatever it takes to make it.”
McKenzie continued to progress in his soccer skills, and when he turned 13, he joined the Union Academy.
“Being in the Academy was probably the best thing for me,” McKenzie said. “I was in a world class facility with world class coaches from around the world. Being around the guys all the time, the camaraderie definitely built up. We felt like a family, it was a brotherhood being built.”
Spending four years with the Academy, McKenzie rose through the ranks. He trained hard and played even harder, making a name for himself within the organization. Eventually, Bethlehem Steel FC took a look at him.
At the age of 17, McKenzie made his professional soccer debut with Steel last season.
“That moment, when I made my debut, it was almost scary,” McKenzie said. “Once I got on the field, everything calmed down and it became about soccer again.”
McKenzie appeared in two matches for Steel during the 2016 season, playing 111 minutes as a center back.
This season, McKenzie has made even more of an impact on the team. He’s getting starts with Steel and becoming an important part of the squad. He’s made five starts for Steel in 2017, playing the full 90 minutes in each match. He has 24 clearances and 17 interceptions and an 82.3 passing percentage.
McKenzie’s impact isn’t just limited to the Union’s teams though. He was called up by the U-18 United States Boys National Team to compete in the Slovakia Cup this past spring. The USBNT won silver in the tournament, winning its group but losing to Russia in the finals.
“It was a true blessing to be called up to the National team and represent the nation’s colors,” McKenzie said. “It’s something every kid wants to do and I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity.”
Looking toward the future, McKenzie’s goals have been what they have always been for him; to play professional soccer and sign a professional contract with the club. He’s nearly there, but he’s still not satisfied.
“It’s been a dream when I was at the Academy, and even before then, to play professional soccer and I’m doing that now,” McKenzie said. “Now it’s the next step of signing professionally. As long as I stay focused on my goals and my dreams, I believe anything can happen. I’m happy where I am, but I’m not satisfied. I’m hungry for more.”
From driving an hour to practices to playing in international tournaments, with dependable roadside assistance, car care, & hotel discounts, AAA is there to support the journeys of all young athletes & their families as they chase their dreams.