Rook­ies ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions

Rosen­berry high­lights bumper crop of fu­ture tal­ent

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

CHESTER >> As they stood on the stage to­gether at the Bal­ti­more Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Jan­uary, each sport­ing scarves metic­u­lously placed around their necks to dis­play both halves of the Philadel­phia Union crest, the trio of col­lege kids smiled and rev­eled in the first mo­ments of their pro­fes­sional ca­reers.

On the other side of a heavy black cur­tain cor­don­ing the ball­room space, MLS scribes pecked away at key­boards with a con­sen­sus: This class would de­fine what pur­ported to be a new era for the Union un­der the lead­er­ship of Earnie Stew­art.

Ten months later, the group has su­per­seded the lofti­est of ex­pec­ta­tions heaped upon them.

As the Union ven­ture to­ward the fi­nal two games of the sea­son, on the precipice of a first MLS Cup play­off berth since 2011, the squad’s youngest mem­bers are among the most in­te­gral to its suc­cess.

“They’ve done a lot of great

“They’ve done a lot of great things for us. But they’ve also had a lot of coach­able mo­ments where they’ve had mis­takes in big spots in big games. The only way you learn is go through them. I’m happy for all of them, and the fu­ture for all of them is very bright.” – Union man­ager Jim Curtin

things for us,” man­ager Jim Curtin said last week. “But they’ve also had a lot of coach­able mo­ments where they’ve had mis­takes in big spots in big games. The only way you learn is go through them. I’m happy for all of them, and the fu­ture for all of them is very bright.”

First the num­bers, his­toric in their scope. Kee­gan Rosen­berry, the No. 3 pick, has played 2,880 MLS min­utes, tied for the most by a drafted or Home­grown rookie league-wide since 2001.

The right back has played ev­ery minute this sea­son; should that trend con­tinue, he’d be­come the first rookie ever to play ev­ery minute of a 34-game sea­son, in­sti­tuted in 2011. Only three rook­ies since 2001 — Michael Parkhurst in 32 games in 2005; Tim Ream in 2010 and Dar­rius Barnes in 2009, both over 30 games — have played ev­ery minute of a rookie cam­paign. (In 2003, Todd Du­ni­vant played 2,778 of a pos­si­ble 2,700 min­utes due to de­funct over­time rules.)

But it’s not just Rosen­berry. The Union’s rookie class, in­clud­ing Fabian Her­bers and Josh Yaro, has logged a com­bined 5,340 min­utes. That’s the most by a club’s Su­per/Sup­ple­men­tal draftees since 2006, when Chivas USA’s draft con­tin­gent, led by Jonathan Born­stein and Sacha Kl­jes­tan, played 6,721. The Union have one of only three classes in the last decade to sur­pass 5,000 min­utes. The club record, from the in­au­gu­ral class in 2010 at 3,087 min­utes, has long since been eclipsed.

If you fac­tor in af­fil­i­ate Beth­le­hem Steel, which uti­lized de­fender Tay­lor Washington and mid­fielder Cole Mis­simo, the Union have doled out over 9,500 league min­utes to rook­ies.

Curtin’s first state­ment about his rook­ies is that they’ve earned ev­ery one of those, and the Union’s place­ment in the ta­ble re­flects that.

Rosen­berry earned an All-Star nod and is among the can­di­dates for Rookie of the Year. Yaro, ac­quired with the No. 2 over­all pick ac­quired on draft day from Colorado for cash and Zach Pf­ef­fer, has en­dured a stop­start cam­paign with in­juries

and sus­pen­sions, but he’s shown prom­ise (and played more min­utes than Pf­ef­fer in five years com­bined). Her­bers, taken with the sixth pick ac­quired from Hous­ton, has the same tally of as­sists as the play­ers traded for the pick (An­drew Wenger and Cris­tian Maidana). His seven helpers rank among the most by a drafted rookie in MLS his­tory.

The foun­da­tion for their suc­cess is twofold, on top of their ob­vi­ous tal­ent, which is com­pa­ra­ble to plenty of rook­ies who’ve never got­ten op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­press.

The first is the core’s ca­ma­raderie. All five came through the col­lege path­way, with Yaro and Rosen­berry team­mates at Ge­orge­town and fa­mil­iar with Her­bers’ opus at Creighton. Travers­ing the ear­ly­ca­reer path with peers is ben­e­fi­cial.

“It’s al­ways good to have a lot of young guys, so you don’t feel like you’re the only one, so you have guys that you can talk to and re­late to,” Her­bers said. “The older guys are good lead­ers on the team and they sup­port you as well, but some­times if you have is­sues with some­thing, you can talk to the younger guys as well and you can re­late bet­ter with them.”

Rosen­berry in par­tic­u­lar ap­pre­ci­ates the for­tune that landed them in Philly. Last fall’s regime change pre­cip­i­tated a ros­ter over­haul, and rook­ies staked sig­nif­i­cant claims on the jobs made avail­able. Their play jus­ti­fied it but re­quired a re­cep­tive coach­ing staff will­ing

to bet big on youth and sup­port those ma­neu­vers with play­ing time.

“I think it’s from the top of the staff,” Rosen­berry said. “It’s just them be­liev­ing in the young guys from the be­gin­ning of the year, from the draft, from the way they talk about the foun­da­tion of the club and how they want to de­velop play­ers.”

But the up­heaval also fos­tered new dy­nam­ics in the locker room, over­seen by a re­spon­si­ble group of vet­er­ans will­ing to let the young play­ers into the fold. Curtin has talked all sea­son about dis­placed vet­er­ans, like Ray Gad­dis or since-traded Se­bastien Le Toux, who be­came con­ge­nial men­tors.

“I think the guys in this locker room re­spect you com­ing in and putting your head down and work­ing hard, and th­ese guys have done that,” said Chris Pon­tius, who was part of a sig­nif­i­cant rookie class in D.C. that ac­counted for some 4,400 min­utes in 2009. “Any­one who does that is go­ing to gain the re­spect of their team­mates. Th­ese guys have done that.”

There are still small bar­ri­ers, Pon­tius ex­plained, as the rook­ies — the “lit­tle

min­ions,” Pon­tius joked — du­ti­fully mopped up the soc­cer balls from a prac­tice ses­sion Tues­day just out of earshot. But the di­vi­sions re­main cur­sory, and they dis­solve com­pletely at game time, a con­se­quence of the rook­ies prov­ing their met­tle be­tween the lines.

“It’s let­ting us feel like we have an im­pact and have a voice,” Rose­berry said. “For as much ban­ter as goes on, I think at the end of the day, they value what we bring to the ta­ble and what we can do on the field, and I think that gives es­pe­cially the young play­ers a lot of con­fi­dence.”

Like the Union at-large, the rookie class has ac­cel­er­ated the re­build­ing timeline, flour­ish­ing per­haps ahead of sched­ule.

But with their abil­i­ties proven, talk of po­ten­tial can be shelved for the time be­ing. There’s plenty to dis­cuss in the present.

“We’re all good play­ers and we all be­long here,” Her­bers said. “What’s go­ing to be in the next five or 10 years, you can’t pre­dict yet. But we’re just try­ing to do our best and con­trib­ute to the team and try to reach the play­offs for now.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kee­gan Rosen­berry, cen­ter left, and Josh Yaro pose with Union sport­ing di­rec­tor Earnie Stew­art, left, and coach Jim Curtin at the 2016 MLS Su­perDraft. Both have con­trib­uted to the team this sea­son, with Rosen­berry earn­ing a spot on the All-Star team.

TED S. WAR­REN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fabian Her­bers leads MLS rook­ies this sea­son with seven as­sists.

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