When two of Keegan Rosenberry's youth soccer coaches found out he would be starting in the Philadelphia Union's season opener earlier this month, they didn't let the 1,400 miles between here and Frisco, Texas stand in their way.
"To be honest it was one of the proudest moments of both our coaching careers," Penn Fusion coach Lee Martin said after returning home from the March 6 game. "We were able to catch up with his parents for lunch before the game and it was a great experience to be there with his family and show Keegan the support he deserves, regardless of the result."
Martin joined Continental FC Delco technical director Sean McCafferty on the 22-hour journey to see Rosenberry's professional debut at right back in a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas.
"To see him lead out the academy team against Everton as an 18-year-old then to see him get drafted in Baltimore were special moments for sure, but when he let us know that he was going to start in the opener we felt we should be there for him on his special day," McCafferty said.
The Lancaster County native, who was taken third overall in the MLS SuperDraft after a homegrown claim on the four-year Georgetown starter was denied by the league, was coming of age as a youth player when the Union were first announced as an expansion team in 2008.
He joined Spirit United when he was a "small but technically sound" 12-year-old and went on to play for Penn Fusion when the club was created as a joint venture between Spirit United and West Chester United and then spent time with the Philadelphia Union Academy in its "club and country" days. Spirit United later merged with FC Delco to create Continental FC Delco.
"Keegan was a very mature, focused young player who never missed training sessions and always gave 100 percent every time he stepped on the field," Martin recalled.
A late bloomer physically, McCafferty and Martin both said they weren't sure of Keegan's professional potential until toward the end of his youth career.
"He had to work harder than the other players who had developed earlier in their youth careers," McCafferty said. "Ultimately though, the physical demands of the game even out and the more soccer intelligent, thoughtful players rise to the top as they have tended to work harder at their game (technically and tactically)."
An early highlight for Rosenberry was playing with the Union Academy against Everton FC Academy at Talen Energy Stadium in June 2011. Rosenberry returned to Chester to play at the stadium then known as PPL Park in his first three seasons for the Big East Championships and also trained with the Union and competed with Premier Development League affiliate Reading United AC.
The familiarity the Union organization had with Keegan, a mainstay at right for his four-year college career, explains why they were first interested in signing him to a homegrown player contract and then willing to make a deal to pick him third in the draft behind college teammate Joshua Yaro.
"Keegan is a professional in every sense of the word, on and off the pitch," McCafferty said. "Combine that with the quality of his play and his ability to play several positions, he is someone that any club would want on their roster."
After a rough debut for a young back line that also marked the MLS debut for Drexel graduate Ken Tribbett against FC Dallas, Keegan showed his versatility in a 2-1 win over Columbus Crew SC with a long throw that led to the Union's first goal of the season from Chris Pontius. He was also involved in the build-up that led to Pontius' eventual game winner in the 71st minute.
His pathway from local youth player to the Union first team is one that has seen mixed results in the early days of the club - the Union currently don't have a homegrown player on their roster and goalkeeper John McCarthy is the only other first team player from the region - but promises greater returns in the future.
Penn Fusion and Continental FC Delco have developed dozens of players for the Union Academy teams since their formation in 2011 and continue to play a vital role in developing future players who unlike in Keegan's early days playing have a local MLS team to dream of one day playing for.
"To know we played a small part in helping Keegan turn his dream of being a professional player into reality fills us with great pride but he is so easy to pull for given his excellent work ethic, positive attitude and humility," Martin said. "He is just a great person to be around, which we believe the Union staff and his teammates are quickly finding out."