Delco teen Auston Trusty spurns UNC, overseas offers to sign with Union

Delco teen Auston Trusty spurns UNC, overseas offers to sign with Union

CHESTER, Pa. — Like most high school graduates soaking in the last bit of summer, Auston Trusty was pumped to leave the comforts of home and begin a new journey at college. 

Even more exciting, he’d be playing collegiate soccer for the University of North Carolina, an NCAA powerhouse he’d dreamed of being a part of since he was little.

What could be better?

But when the time came to report to Chapel Hill last week, Trusty was absent, remaining home in the Philly area so he could trade one dream for another.

On Wednesday, the 17-year-old center back signed a professional contract with the Union — the club’s second Homegrown signing this summer and the fifth in franchise history.

“It was a hard decision because UNC is such a great school,” Trusty told reporters following his first official practice as a member of the Union on Wednesday. “I love everything about it. I dreamed of going there ever since I was a young kid — full-on dreamed about it. But on the other hand, I also dreamed of turning pro for Philadelphia and representing them in a great way.”

It might seem like a big jump to go directly from high school to the pros, especially when there’s such a great college option in front of you. But the Union have worked hard to build the kind of developmental program in which teenagers can thrive.

Whereas past Homegrown signings like Zach Pfeffer, Cristhian Hernandez and Jimmy McLaughlin floundered off to the side a few years ago, Trusty and fellow 2016 Homegrown signing Derrick Jones can get valuable minutes with the Union’s expansion minor-league affiliate, the Bethlehem Steel. 

In fact, it was Trusty’s performance with the Steel this summer, where he made 13 starts at center back, that convinced the Union they needed to lock him up to a pro contract before someone else did. 

“There was a lot of interest overseas,” Union head coach Jim Curtin admitted. “I won’t hold back on that. A lot. And he chose us over that, and pursuing his dream at UNC. We’re happy to have him on board.”

Curtin, a former youth coach with the Union, has known Trusty for a long time. And he’s marveled at just how far he’s come, watching him transform from a skinny, middle-of-the-road Union Juniors academy player to a supremely athletic, 6-foot-3 defender who’s strong in the air and has been a staple of U.S. youth national teams.

“I had him when he was 10 and he wasn’t the best in the group — probably toward the middle or the bottom,” Curtin said. “He’s a great example for young players. You never know in your pathway when your development is going to kick in or get sped up. He learned a lot and took it in quickly. ... I’m a big fan of the late bloomers because that means there’s a heck of a lot more potential in there. It means they haven’t been told they’re the best their whole life.”

Trusty still vividy remembers his first day as a Union Juniors player with Curtin as his coach, marveling not only at how much he’s grown up since then but also the franchise itself. One of the biggest signals of the club’s rapid growth was the recent creation of YSC Academy, the Union-run high school that Trusty, a Media resident, enrolled in as a senior last year and graduated from in June. (He had previously went to school at Penncrest High and also spent time at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.)

“It was absolutely the best time,” Trusty said of YSC Academy, a private school in Wayne which pairs soccer instruction with a college-preparatory education. “The place is like a family. It’s hard to explain to people because you can’t grasp what it truly is. But when they hear about it, they’re amazed because they’ve never heard about anything like it. Everything about the school is truly unique. It’s amazing. I loved it.”

One of the perks of being a YSC Academy student and academy player are the frequent interactions the teenagers have with the Union coaches and players. Over the past year, Trusty said he’s gotten advice from some of the team’s veterans and could lean on them “24-7, if I ever need it.” 

He’ll also continue to lean on his teammates with the Steel, for whom he’ll likely keep playing this season. It's the best way, Curtin said, that the defender can get “90-minute games” and not immediately get thrown into a heated MLS playoff race.

Naturally, Trusty hopes he can make his Union debut sooner rather than later. But even if it doesn’t happen over the final three months of the 2016 season, it won’t dampen any of the enthusiasm he has for getting paid to be a part of his hometown team, just a few miles from where he lives with his family. 

“When I grew up, I was amazed by the stadium,” he said. “I always had a dream of playing here and being a part of Philly. ... It’s just amazing that I can grow up in Delco and be a part of Philadelphia and I’m able to represent [it as] a professional. I’m just honored and it’s a true privilege.”

Union add attack power in Brazilian forward Sergio Santos

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Union add attack power in Brazilian forward Sergio Santos

Sporting director Ernst Tanner and the Union made their first big splash of the offseason on Friday by signing 24-year-old Brazilian forward Sergio Santos. 

Santos was acquired for a $500,000 transfer fee from Chilean Primera Division club Audax Italiano and was signed using Targeted Allocation Money. The length of the deal was not disclosed. 

“Sergio is a young forward with potential and we are pleased to complete his signing,” Tanner said in the team’s official release. “When we met with him in Chile, it became apparent that he is a good fit for our club both as a player and as a person.”

The move is intriguing for multiple reasons. The 6-foot center forward is the first impact addition from new sporting director Ernst Tanner, whose goal for the offseason was to make the Union a more offensive-oriented team with a potential two-forward setup. 

Secondly, Santos, who had nine goals in 16 matches for Audex last season, joins a busy Union attack corps that features Cory Burke, C.J. Sapong, David Accam and Fafa Picault. If only two of those five can play at any given time in Tanner’s formation, the team could look to ship someone out. 

Attacking pieces Jay Simpson, Fabian Herber and Marcus Epps were not retained for the 2019 season.

“We have observed rapid improvement and development at Audax,” Tanner said, “and believe he is ready for this next step. We next look forward to integrating him as quickly as possible with the team at the start of preseason.”

Union sign manager Jim Curtin to contract extension

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Union sign manager Jim Curtin to contract extension

Change is in the air for the Union, but not where you’d expect. 

The Union on Monday extended head coach Jim Curtin's contract for the 2019 season. Terms of the one-year deal were not disclosed.

“We’re continuing our collaboration,” sporting director Ernst Tanner said at the Union’s end-of-season press conference. “If the collaboration is going well, we’ll continue it.”

Maligned by Philadelphia fans, Curtin, who was out of contract following the season, landed fourth in MLS Coach of the Year voting and is coming off a record season for the Union, earning a franchise record 15 wins and the team’s third-ever playoff berth — its second in three seasons.

“I do understand the microscope in Philadelphia shines a little tougher,” Curtin said. “That comes with the territory of coaching in Philadelphia. There’s going to be scrutiny. I’m happy to be here, this club means a ton to me. Philadelphia is where I’m from and I look forward to 2019.” 

With Tanner taking putting his stamp on the club, Curtin could have easily been a casualty of new management. However, the Philly-native did enough to convince the new boss he’s worthy. 

“Jim led us to the playoffs for the second time in a three-year period,” Tanner said. “His relationship with the players is very good. He's an expert in developing young players, which will be a clear focus in the future.”

While Curtin is remaining, Tanner does want to see some change, especially in terms of the team’s on-field flexibility, aggressiveness and unpredictability. The manager's ability to accomplish Tanner's goals could determine his future beyond 2019.

"We need to make it a little bit more inconvenient to play us,” Tanner said. “I feel we are a little too easy to reckon, especially when everyone ahead of us knows we’re playing in a 4-2-3-1."

Though Curtin is sticking with the team, a number of long-time players and former prospects won’t be. On Monday, the club announced that it has declined contract options on defenders Richie Marquez and Josh Yaro, along with midfielders Marcus Epps, Fabian Herbers and Adam Najem. High-priced forward Jay Simpson and third-string goalkeeper Jake McGuire were also cut loose. 

MLS assist leader Borek Dockal saw his loan expire from Chinese club Henan Jianye. The full purchase price on the 30-year-old’s contract could be too rich for the Union, who are expected to be in the market for a new No. 10 if they can’t retain the playmaker.

"There's a possibility to bring him back but it's not in our hands," Tanner said. "Borek told us about his situation and wish to return to Europe, something we need to respect. If there's a chance to bring him back, we'll do it."

Backup goalkeeper John McCarthy, Warren Creavalle and Ray Gaddis are all out of contract, but all three have had discussions with the team. The Union specifically announced it is working on a new contract with veteran left back Fabinho.

“We’re going to scout now,” Tanner said.