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Curtin sticking with McKenzie after costly mistake in Atlanta United game

McKenzie’s turnover led to the double red card penalty kick debacle

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Atlanta United FC Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

It was a fairly routine ball to Mark McKenzie with plenty of time and no one around him in the middle of the field that started a play that resulted in a penalty kick and two Union players being sent off in the 18th minute of Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Atlanta United.

“Mark McKenzie who has been amazing for us made a big mistake,” head coach Jim Curtin said on Monday. “Auston puts out the fire, actually catches one of the best strikers in our league and things ensued after that. That kind of was the start to it all.”

You can see the play unfold in the video embedded below or on the MLS website. The pass comes from Haris Medunjanin, who is back pedaling on the play and sends a ball toward the middle of the field.

Uncharacteristically, the ball ends up skipping over McKenzie’s foot and right into the path of Miguel Almirón, who quickly gets the ball to Josef Martínez.

The 19-year-old McKenzie was making just the seventh appearance of his MLS career and the sixth start. He was also coming off making the MLS Team of the Week in a scoreless draw against the New York Red Bulls on Memorial Day Weekend.

But even with last year’s Rookie of the Year finalist Jack Elliott available, Curtin said he isn’t planning to make a change.

“We could point fingers and blame and change Mark and make a big deal about it but no we’re going to roll him back out there because he’s a guy we believe in and he’s done excellent for us,” Curtin said. “It is important though to stress with these young guys there’s going to be mistakes and we have to be willing to live with them.”

McKenzie and Trusty have now combined in central defense for more than 1,700 minutes on the season. Trusty has played all 1,260 minutes for the Union this season, which put him past Zach Pfeffer (1,226) for the most minutes played for a Union homegrown.

McKenzie is fourth behind Derrick Jones (702), followed by Matthew Real (236) and Anthony Fontana (90), who have played all of their minutes this season.

“Mark made one (mistake) that has caused a lot of things, the domino effect to happen,” Curtin added. “But at the same time it’s what we signed up at the beginning of the year. We knew there were going to be some really high highs and some low lows and now there has to be belief from staff to put them back out there and that’s the only way you learn in this league.”