When it comes to naming the star players on Atlanta United’s squad the past two seasons, Jeff Larentowicz isn’t typically the first player you’ll hear or even think of yourself.
But the 35-year-old who grew up in West Chester, Pa. has been a steady veteran presence on a team now one win away from capturing the league’s ultimate prize after a pair of seasons full of highlight-reel goals and record-setting crowds.
Now in his 14th season with his fifth club, Larentowicz has surpassed 400 career appearances (including postseason) and has rarely missed a game since he broke into the New England Revolution lineup as a second-year player back in 2006.
On Saturday, a player who struggled at times in his youth days and was passed over 90 times in the 2005 draft will have a chance to play for his second MLS Cup.
Philadelphia Union U19 head coach Kevin Coleman, who won a pair of national titles with Jeff in their youth days at FC Delco (now Continental FC) said he and his other former youth teammates who all still regularly talk in a group chat aren’t surprised that they’ll be watching him in another MLS Cup on Saturday.
“It’s amazing to see but none of us are surprised he’s still going,” Coleman said. “No matter what he’s doing, no matter where he is, no matter what it is, he’s all in with the way he takes care of himself, the way he trains every day and it shows in the way he plays.”
Coleman, who played center back on those FC Delco teams that won titles in 2002 and 2003, said Larentowicz was the type of player he didn’t like as an opponent but loved having as a teammate.
“He didn’t need to be the feature and the star,” Coleman said. “He was just happy to go out and do his job and really just make everyone’s jobs easier. It’s the same qualities you’re seeing now with Atlanta, which is even more impressive.”
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Alan Mezger, who was a coach on those FC Delco teams, remembers the determination Larentowicz displayed even when he was overshadowed by other players who were better than him at the time.
“He was on a Delco team that had more talented players,” Mezger recalled. “But all you needed to do was give Jeff an opportunity and he would seize it. He’s very talented but he’s also very determined. He makes every right decision off the field.”
Larentowicz’s entry into the league mostly went unnoticed coming out of Brown University in 2005 but after only one appearance as a rookie, he forced his way into the starting lineup in 2006 and really hasn’t relinquished his role as an MLS starter since.
He won a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2007 and a North American SuperLiga crown in 2008 with the Revolution before being traded to Colorado, along with Wells Thompson, for Preston Burpo and Cory Gibbs. In his first season with the Rapids, he won his first and only MLS Cup to date.
Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin, who did battle with Larentowicz for a couple seasons when he was with the Chicago Fire, talked about his former rival at a press conference in July ahead of Atlanta’s 2-0 win over the Union at Talen Energy Stadium.
“He’s a really, really important player for Atlanta,” Curtin said. “He allows the freedom that a lot of the other players in the attacking part of the field have because he’s so good at what he does and does the little things that don’t show up, a little bit like what (Alejandro) Bedoya does for us.”
Larentowicz nearly ended up in Philadelphia a couple years ago when his option wasn’t picked up by the Chicago Fire, Curtin said, but he ended up going to LA Galaxy for a season and then signed as a free agent with the five stripes in 2017.
“I can’t say enough about Jeff and the career that he’s had,” said Curtin, who grew up in Oreland, Pa. “I remember when Jeff was at Chestnut Hill High School, he struggled not only to make the team but eventually worked his way into the lineup of a high school team. He’s a guy who did it through hard work.”
On Saturday, all that hard work could lead to another major trophy in the MLS Cup final against the Portland Timbers (8 p.m. ET on FOX | UniMás).