With 18-year-old Matthew Real making the start Saturday against the Colorado Rapids in place of injured veteran Fabinho, the Philadelphia Union lined up a back four with an 18, 19, 22 and 24-year-old that was the youngest in league history.
Real only turned a year old two days before the previous youngest back line in league history when D.C. United’s back three of Micah Crooks (19), Eric Denton (22) and Carey Talley (23) played against the Tampa Bay Mutiny on July 12, 2000. D.C. United drew that match 2-2.
“They preach back at home ‘play the youth, play the youth’ and it’s good that we’re finally getting to see it happen,” Real said after the match. “Our next step now is for all of us to make an impact, which I think all of us have done a pretty good job so far.”
A Drexel Hill native, Real lined up next to fellow homegrown defender Auston Trusty, 22-year-old London native Jack Elliott and 24-year-old right back Keegan Rosenberry, a Lancaster native who was part of the Union’s youth system back before the full-time academy had been established.
“We’re gonna give young players a chance, that’s the philosophy of our club,” head coach Jim Curtin said after the match.
The back line kept the Rapids scoreless through the first 52 minutes to set a new club record for minutes without conceding a goal to start the season at 232. Then Dominique Badji added two more goals to complete the hat trick and send the Union back home 1-1-1.
“Had a little reality check on the road, which is challenging against a team that played balls forward, played with two forwards and had it under control for 53 minutes and then kind of lost our way a little bit,” Curtin said. “But overall, happy with our young guys. I think they’re only going to get better each and every time they come out.”
Homegrown defender Mark McKenzie, who is 19, was on the bench in the game while 18-year-old midfielder Anthony Fontana made his third appearance of the season off the bench in the 82nd minute.
“It means the organization believes in us and they believe in what they are trying to set out to do,” Auston Trusty said after the match.
The average age for the Union back line on Saturday was 21 years, 155 days. D.C. United’s back three averaged 21 years and 284 days while the previous youngest back four was 21 years, 284 days by Sporting Kansas City on June 6, 2014 against Houston Dynamo. SKC won 2-0 that night with a back four of Kevin Ellis (22), Igor Juliao (19), Erik Palmer-Brown (17) and Seth Sinovic (27).