The Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty partnership on the back line was expected to be one of the story lines of the season after both had promising campaigns in 2018, but five weeks into the season the 20-year-old McKenzie is still waiting to register his first minutes for the Philadelphia Union.
This appears to have as much to do with how Jack Elliott is playing ahead of him as it is a sign of any loss in form for the U.S. youth international, who had a busy offseason helping to lead the U20s to a Concacaf Championship with a competition best XI performance.
“(Jack Elliott’s) playing probably at his best level right now,” head coach Jim Curtin in his weekly press conference on Wednesday.
Eliott won the job coming out of preseason after McKenzie, who was away at January camp with the senior national team when Union camp opened, had an injury setback that limited his time and preparation for the season.
Since then Elliott has refused to relinquish the position he platooned with McKenzie last season.
McKenzie’s only minutes have come in a 90-minute start for Bethlehem Steel FC in a 1-0 loss to Memphis 901 FC in Chester on March 24.
“Mark is still a great center back and he’s a great young player,” Curtin said. “He’s doing everything on the field in training but he just happens to have two guys (ahead of him) that are playing well right now and the team’s winning.”
It’s a familiar scenario for McKenzie and Elliott, who alternated as the starter next to Trusty last season with one replacing the other because of injury, suspension or fixture congestion. McKenzie ended up with 18 starts last season and Elliott the other 16.
“Things aren’t going to change in the very near future so he always has to be ready when he’s called upon,” Curtin said of McKenzie, who will be part of the U20 World Cup if the team releases him. “There could be an injury, there could be something that happens and the change is made but right now we’re going to go with the group that’s getting results and right now he’s the odd man out.”
Elliott started the first five games last season but left with an injury in the fifth game against Orlando City. McKenzie made his MLS debut off the bench in the game and ended up making 13 of the next 16 starts in league play. McKenzie started the last six regular season games and the playoff after Elliott went out in September with a suspension.
Over that same span of time, Trusty has played every minute. His consecutive minute streak currently sits at 3,510.