Philadelphia Union Homegrown defenders Mark McKenzie and Matt Real have been through it all together. From their early stages at the Union Academy to the First Team and even the United States U-20 National Team, it's safe to say these two are quite the duo.
McKenzie and Real's friendship has grown not only with through the Union, but with the U.S. National Team too.
"Matt (Real) is like my brother. We've been through the Academy, the pre-academy, we've been through quite a lot," McKenzie said. "But having someone there that you've been through the ranks with is always nice. We've grown really close over the past couple years and hopefully, that continues to grow."
The defenders' last USYNT call-up came in March, where the two embarked on their journey to Alicante, Spain for the team’s first international preparation for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2019. The camp included three friendlies on March 21, March 23 and March 27.
During their friendlies, McKenzie and Real both appeared in the Starting XI and roomed together on the trip. For Real, having McKenzie both in Philadelphia and with the National Team is extremely valuable to him.
“The more chemistry we build, the better it’ll be with our future with this club and abroad with our National Team,” Real said. “We were actually roommates while we were there (in Spain), Mark is one of my best friends and getting a chance to play with him here and there really helps us gain experience together.”
Although the two defenders are no strangers to international duty, call-ups can come at any time, but always being prepared for that opportunity is what's truly important.
McKenzie previously was called up for the inaugural United States Youth National Team Summit Camp in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, where he was with the U.S. U-20s. He previously played for the U-18s while also attending camps for the U-16's and U-15's."Each trip is a new experience. The system stays pretty consistent and teaches the same principles through each team. As you work your way up, it gets harder and harder," McKenzie said.
"Always be ready when your name is called and know that each level you're going to have to push yourself that much more," McKenzie said. "Each camp is going to be a new challenge so you have to be ready to better your game every time you step on the field whether it's training or during the matches."
With that same token, Real also joined McKenzie at the USYNT Summit Camp. Previously, he was with the U.S. U-18's, including for the 2017 U-18 Lisbon International Tournament, where he started all three matches against Japan, Norway and Portugal.
While with the U-20's for camp last month, Real was called back stateside to join the Union for their match against Colorado Rapids. The valuable experiences the two learn each time their name is called helps them when they return back home to represent the club's badge.
“Hopefully I can have more experiences like this with the National Team, and continue to progress,” Real said. “Any time I get a chance to represent my country it means a lot to me."
As Real and McKenzie continue to grow together, Union fans can expect the dynamic duo to continue their bond whether it’s at Talen Energy Stadium for Philadelphia Union or all over the globe for the United States Men’s National Team.
On May 28, fans can catch the international action as the United States Men's National Team comes to Talen Energy Stadium for a friendly against Bolivia. The match will kick off the USMNT's summer tour. Tickets for the game can be found here.