Rookies exceed expectations
Rosenberry highlights bumper crop of future talent
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Ten months later, the group has superseded the loftiest of expectations heaped upon them.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.”
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.
Fabian Herbers leads MLS rookies this season with seven assists.