Year two didn't go exactly as planned for Mark McKenzie. 2019 opened at US National Team camp, but then a series of injuries kept the Union's homegrown center back from reclaiming his starting position as the MLS season unfolded. Jack Elliott put the right centerback in a headlock and McKenzie was fighting to be his partner.
When he finally got his chance in August, McKenzie took it. He showed that the shift to left centerback was one he could handle, and he helped his squad to a run of home results that secured a playoff spot before the month was out.
McKenzie played in the U20 World Cup this year, and returned to the USMNT senior squad after the MLS season before joining up with the US U23s as they prepped for Olympic qualifying.
McKenzie is viewed so highly by the Union and the United States National Team because of his unique blend of positional intelligence, passing, and aggression. Pay special attention to that first attribute, because it's the one that separates Philly's No. 4 from the rest of the pack. The speed and strength are easy to recognize, but McKenzie uses his physique to battle in tight spaces; his positional sense puts him in those spaces at the right time to make a play.
And his teammates recognize it. McKenzie has worn the captain's armband for multiple USMNT youth sides, and his leadership ability is clear. As he grows from a young player to a veteran, expect Mark McKenzie to continue to grow as a presence on the pitch and in the locker room.
That is why he is No. 16 on the MLS 22 Under 22 list this year. And he will only continue to rise.