The Union have the bad luck of one of their rare national TV appearances this year being at the same hour as a Flyers playoff game.
But while local attention may be elsewhere — and the crowds in Chester have been sparse enough as is — the national soccer audience has a reason to pay attention. Friday’s game against Orlando City will give the Union’s corps of American prospects their biggest spotlight yet.
It’s a near-certainty that defenders Matthew Real and Auston Trusty will start together for the third straight game. Playmaker Anthony Fontana will be a leading candidate to come off the bench, while defender Mark McKenzie and midfielder Derrick Jones will likely also be on call.
They will be observed not just by those looking to see if the Union can snap a three-game winless skid. They will also be observed by those looking for potential U.S. national team players at the 2022 World Cup.
It is not too early to say that. It has been appropriate ever since the infamous night in Trinidad last October when the U.S. men failed to qualify for this year’s tournament in Russia.
The national team that plays Bolivia in Chester on Memorial Day weekend will be assembled with that goal. So will every squad for the next four years. The last roster, for a game against Paraguay in March, included 19-year-olds Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie and 18-year-old Tim Weah. The squad to face Bolivia could include 18-year-old Josh Sargent, and Hershey’s Christian Pulisic, who’s still just 19.
If Trusty (age 19) and Real (18) continue playing well for the Union, why not give them a look too? Both players have already been part of the U.S. under-20 team, and played at last year’s under-20 World Cup.
ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, who will call Friday’s game, would like to see them get a shot — especially Trusty.
“We’ve already had how many friendlies [since last October], and they’re still calling in guys that I don’t need to see,” Twellman said. “Since the Paraguay game, they have been calling in 19- [and] 20-year-olds from around the world. I hope they [continue to] do that.”
Real’s potential stems not just from his talent, but from his position. Left backs are hard to come by in MLS and beyond.
“I actually really like him,” Twellman said. “Ask all 23 teams in Major League Soccer, how many of them are 100 percent convinced on their left-sided players? It’s going to be less than a handful.”
And when European clubs start offering to buy the Union’s prospects, Twellman said the club shouldn’t hesitate.
“Trusty is someone that I fully expect to not be here that long,” he said. “He’s going to be on the radar very quickly of clubs around the world. … If the offer comes for Trusty and it is the right offer, it is extremely important that this ownership sends the right message to the fans of what they are and what they want to be.”
That message, Twellman added, is simple: “In order to be a player on the world market, you’ve got to be secure enough to sell your players on the world market.”
Union vs. Orlando City
Friday, 8 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium
TV/online streaming: ESPN, ESPN Deportes, WatchESPN.com
Union’s record: 1-1-2, 5 points (8th in the East); 1-0-2 at home
Orlando’s record: 2-2-1, 7 points (5th in the East); 0-1-0 on the road
Series history: Union 3 wins, Orlando 2 wins, 2 ties
At Talen Energy Stadium: Union 3 wins, Orlando 1 wins, 0 ties
Orlando players to watch
D Mohamed El-Munir: Though Orlando’s defense has been poor this year, the Libya native has won praise for his hustle. The Lions will need that even more because veteran Jonathan Spector is out due to a recent concussion.
M Sacha Kljestan: Last season’s MLS assists leader was traded to Orlando from the New York Red Bulls in an offseason blockbuster. He should have more than 52 national team caps, and at age 32 probably won’t be called up again. But he’s still a fine setup man in the league.
F Dom Dwyer: He comes to Chester on a scoring streak: two goals against the Red Bulls on March 31 and the winner against Portland last weekend.