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.”