Union defender Keegan Rosenberry emerges after months stuck on the bench

About an hour before a recent game against the Montreal Impact, the Union’s public relations staff announced that Keegan Rosenberry would be out of action because of a hip injury.

Fans on social media promptly asked if Rosenberry had suffered it by sitting on the bench for too long.

Yes, it was a wisecrack, but with an element of truth. After playing every minute of every regular-season game in 2016, the 23-year-old right back has made just nine appearances this year, of which six were starts. His arrival as a substitute during Saturday’s 2-2 draw at San Jose broke a streak of 13 games without playing, dating to May 17.

What happened to the rock-solid right back who was the runner-up in last year’s MLS Rookie of the Year race, and got a look from the U.S. national team last winter?

Union manager Jim Curtin has been asked the question repeatedly this summer, and has been pretty tight-lipped about it. But he has offered a few hints from time to time, especially about the competition between Rosenberry and Ray Gaddis for the starting job.

“Playing time is earned during the week in training,” Curtin said recently. “We’re looking for him to continue to improve each and every day in training, first and foremost, and then ultimately he’ll get an opportunity back with the 11 when that situation presents itself.”

In fairness to Gaddis, the veteran hasn’t done all that much wrong. He is a strong one-on-one defender, and has put the clamps on some of MLS’ best wide attackers.

Rosenberry offers a bit more going forward, with runs from deep positions that set up teammates to create goals. But Saturday, he got clearly beaten on the play that led to the late penalty kick that turned a potential 2-1 win into a tie.

The Harrisburg-area native said Tuesday that his conversations with Curtin during his spell on the bench were “fine. For me, it’s just about trying to continue to train hard, and stay focused, and try to be motivated and help the team. And whatever I can do to push the guys in front of me that are playing, it’s going to help the team perform better.”

That was some impressive diplomacy. But what about how he addressed himself? He acknowledged that part wasn’t so easy.

“You’re never sure what the outcomes are going to be like in terms of player selection, but that’s why you train hard every day and try to improve day in and day out,” Rosenberry said. “You continue to try and get better every day and try and get yourself in the lineup. When that doesn’t come, it’s frustrating, but it’s motivation to continue to work harder and play your way back in.”

And there was frustration. Fortunately, Rosenberry was able to step back and realize it in the moments when it started to get to him.

“The minute that you let it get the better of you is when training doesn’t go well, you make poor decisions, and you’re not as sharp as you want to be,” he said. “That’s the challenge [and] you’ve got to embrace that. … Whenever you get your hopes up and don’t get selected, that’s not good, either. So you try and be consistent with your approach, and always train as if you’re going to play, and always warm up during the game as if you’re going to get subbed in.”

The moment finally came in the 73rd minute Saturday, after Giliano Wijnaldum took a hit to his left ankle. Gaddis shifted to Wijnaldum’s left back spot and Rosenberry came in on the right.

Had Wijnaldum’s injury not happened, Rosenberry likely wouldn’t have seen the field at all. Rosenberry himself said Tuesday that his summons to the field was “unexpected.”

This much is certain: The Union are in the midst of a stretch of three games in eight days, including two on the road. Rosenberry’s services were always likely to be required in either Wednesday’s contest at Toronto FC (8 p.m., TCN) or Saturday’s home game vs. Atlanta (7 p.m., CSN).

So it might end up being a good thing that he got some action Saturday, instead of being thrown into the fire as a starter after all that time off the field.

“The speed of the games can’t really be replicated in training, [and] to get ramped up to that speed, as a defender especially,” Curtin said. “It’s good to get that under his belt, and, whether it’s Toronto, whether it’s Atlanta, he will play a role in those games.”

That might help those fans who’ve wondered aloud where Rosenberry has been.

“I continue to appreciate the fans here,” he said. “It’s like anything: It’s two-sided: You embrace it whenever you’re doing well and you take it for what it is when you’re not doing well.”

Blake returns

Curtin is often coy about his lineup choices during the week. But he had no need to hide the fact that Andre Blake is back to full health and will be in the net in Toronto.

“Andre will start,” Curtin said. “It’s good to have him back. … Johnny [McCarthy] did a great job getting some points for us, but at the same time, to have Andre back in the net is a good thing for the group.”

Another travel headache

Just days after Curtin opened up about his frustration with MLS’ restrictions on charter flights, the Union’s scheduled commercial flight to Toronto on Tuesday afternoon was canceled. The team had to scramble to book charter travel instead. A flight was found a few hours later with assistance from the league office. MLS teams are allowed four one-way charter trips per year for regular-season games.

Union at Toronto FC

8 p.m. Wednesday at BMO Field

TV/online: TCN, MLSSoccer.com (paid subscription)

Union's record: 8-11-6, 30 points (9th in the East); 1-7-4 on the road
Toronto's record: 14-3-8, 50 points (1st in the East and MLS overall); 9-0-3 at home

All-time series: Union 6 wins, Toronto 6 wins, 5 ties
At Toronto: Union 2 wins, Toronto 4 wins, 3 ties

Toronto players to watch

Forward Jozy Altidore: The U.S. national team star is having a stellar season, with nine goals and five assists so far for the Reds.

Forward Sebastian Giovinco: Even with all the new signings across MLS this year, the 5-foot-4 Italian might still be the league's best player. He has recorded double-digit goals every year he's been in Toronto: 22 in 2015, 21 last year and 12 so far this year. He has also dished out 41 assists.

Midfielder Victor Vazquez: It would be easy to put Michael Bradley here, as captain of Toronto and the U.S. national team. But Vazquez has been an underrated star. The Spaniard has 10 assists and five goals this year.

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