There is many top centerbacks in MLS, but the Philadelphia Union has had a strong season thanks to multiple players in its defensive corps.
The Eastern Conference club is sitting in third place this regular season with several players stringing together impressive campaigns so far. Mark McKenzie, Jack Elliott, and Jakob Glesnes have all seen minutes for the Union this season, rotating during the busy stretch of the regular season.
All three bring different elements to the field and have been praised by head coach Jim Curtin for what they’ve done so far this year.
“I’m a very lucky coach in MLS,” Curtin said in a conference call Thursday. “Obviously I rate the center back position highly, maybe I overrate it. But I think in this league if you look across it, there’s not a lot of great center backs. We have a whole stable – obviously [Aurelien] Collin is out, but the three center backs that have been playing the minutes have been better than any in the league.”
“They’ve been at the top of their game, they’ve embraced the rotation where it’s two games on, one game off…We can’t find a drop off at all no matter what the pairing is. Not many coaches, not just in MLS but all over the world, can say they have three that are able to play at the level that these guys are playing.”
Glesnes joined the Union from Norwegian side Stromsgodset this past offseason and has already earned seven appearances, which included a magical strike in an early season draw at LAFC. The 26-year-old has several years under his belt from time in his native Norway and hasn’t missed a beat so far in MLS.
Veteran Aurelien Collin hasn’t played yet this season, but also brings valuable experience to the group. With Elliott, Glesnes, and McKenzie all seeing time this season, Curtin has confident in the group to shuffle the trio around between games.
“I believe you have to pick two, you have to find a way to get to two,” Curtin said. “That’s also part of what keeps them all sharp right now, is that they know they’re still competing. But when the weather gets cold and the time comes for final stretch obviously, we’ll have to make a difficult decision. You’ve seen us though use all three in games as well – where we sub one out.
“And, again, the demands are different right now and it’s a different season where when five subs are available and three fresh strikers come in, if you’re defending a lead you can sub your center backs. I think they’ll all still contribute, but down the stretch in final five games and then playoffs, I think ultimately you do have to make a decision and go with it.”
The trio of defenders have helped the Union come close to lifting its first trophy as an MLS franchise and since then post a 3-1-1 record in five regular season matches. All three players have excelled for the Union this season and will need to be just as important with even more opportunities coming up over the next few months.
“Jim wants to rotate these guys, and I don’t think you’ve seen a drop-off in quality at all, and that says a lot about character of those guys and their ability,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “You always want to play every game, so it could be tough mentally, but I think they’ve taken that pretty well. Big credit to them.”
The Union next hosts the New England Revolution on Saturday at Subaru Park, knowing a victory would see them leapfrog Toronto FC back into second place.