CHESTER, Pa. — The Union were having a lot of fun at the end of Thursday's practice, firing shots from the edge of the box and going nuts when an equipment intern ended the session with a perfectly placed blast into the corner of the net.
Perhaps the only Union player having more fun was an 18-year-old about 7,000 miles away. That would be Philly homegrown kid Auston Trusty, who scored a great goal to help cap the U.S. Under-20 team's 6-0 pasting of New Zealand in the FIFA U-20 World Cup round of 16 in South Korea — and then celebrated in style afterward.
Along with fellow Union homegrown Derrick Jones, who's been a starter at the World Cup, Trusty is gaining valuable experience on an international stage. The same can be said for captain Alejandro Bedoya, who joined the U.S. senior national team ahead of two big World Cup qualifiers, as he usually does.
And then there's Bedoya's midfield partner, Haris Medunjanin, who was called into the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team for next Friday's World Cup qualifier vs. Greece.
"I always like to go back and play for my country because I was born there and it's a big honor," Medunjanin said after practice. "I think for anybody to play for their country, it's a dream come true."
If that's the case, Union players have been fulfilling a lot of dreams as the international break approaches. But devotion to the club is important too as Medunjanin decided he wanted to play in Saturday's game vs. New York City FC (1 p.m./6ABC) before meeting up with his Bosnian teammates.
For Union head coach Jim Curtin, that says a lot.
"Haris is a great professional," Curtin said. "He really will do anything for the Philadelphia Union badge. He's a guy who led our group through this good stretch of games … not just because of the goals or the assists but also the little things off the field, keeping the group together. He's a big part of the team.
"If you talk about a guy you want young players to emulate, to look up to for all the things he does on the field and off — he's a true professional."
Medunjanin has a unique national team history, suiting up for Netherlands youth teams before moving over to play for Bosnia, where he's earned over 50 caps and helped guide to its first World Cup berth in 2014. He lived in Bosnia until he was 7 before he fled with his mother and sister at the outbreak of the Bosnian War, growing up in Holland and learning the sport at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar's youth academy. He's since played in top leagues in Spain, Israel and Turkey, giving him quite the pedigree to be a leader on a young Union team.
And even though other European players have been snubbed by their national team coaches after coming to MLS, Curtin believes Medunjanin will continue to be a mainstay for Bosnia and help change the league's perception across the pond.
"On every roster, there's a great European player, a great South American player that plays in this league and goes, 'Wow, there's quality here, it's getting better,'" Curtin said. "The stadiums, the atmosphere, the way we travel, the hotels we stay in — the bar is getting raised. And it spreads quickly throughout the soccer world.
"When Haris talks about it with his teammates when he goes back to Bosnia, it just spreads more and more. And it's really spreading quickly. It's a rapid rise right now. If it was a stock, I'd invest."
Medunjanin certainly believes MLS is a growing league, admitting Thursday that he's been "surprised" by the quality and that it's "better than I thought." And while he's still learning to deal with some of the league's tougher aspects — like the kind of travel and jet lag that doesn't exist in European leagues — he's also trying to use his experience to teach a thing or two to the team's younger players.
One of those guys is Jones, who, with his strong performance for the U-20s, is looking more and more like he could have a bright future both in Philly and on the international stage.
"He has a comfort level on the ball that is unique," Curtin said. "He's brave and sometimes he'll try to dribble out of situations where I cringe on the sideline but he always bounces out with the ball at his feet. Some guys have that; some guys don't. He's one of them. When he goes into a tackle, the ball always comes out at his feet.
"Derrick's fearless. I think he's turned a lot of heads. We're not surprised here back in Philadelphia because he's a special player."