McKenzie continues growth as one of top defenders in MLS

McKenzie continues growth as one of top defenders in MLS

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McKenzie continues growth as one of top defenders in MLS

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The Philadelphia Union stayed in the hunt for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and defender Mark McKenzie was a major part of Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Impact.

McKenzie registered his first two career MLS assists in the lopsided win at Red Bull Arena while also playing a role in the sending off of Impact forward Romell Quioto. His passing ability was on display while defensively he was sound against the 10-men Impact. It was another good day at the office for the third-year player as the Union claimed its third win in a row.

“It shows our maturity,” McKenzie said postmatch. “I wanted to win games. Not just win them 1-0, 2-1 but wanting to do them in decisive manners and tonight we had the opportunity. We’re up a man, they’re a little wounded and that’s time for us to really maximize on our opportunities. At the end of the season, those little details matter so ultimately it’s about making sure we’re putting our chances away and separating ourselves from the rest of the pack so that way come November, we’re in a good position.”

McKenzie has been growing into a top defender this season which has reportedly caught the attention of several European clubs including Scottish giants Celtic. The 22-year-old centerback has rotated at times with Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes, but has showed his leadership in several important victories this season.

His upfield pass to Brenden Aaronson led to the Union’s third goal by Kacper Przybylko before setting up substitute Anthony Fontana for the team’s fourth and final goal of the evening. McKenzie completed 92% of his passes in the Eastern Conference win, with 23 of them coming in the Impact’s side of the field. McKenzie’s continued growth as a passer gives the Union another weapon in its build-up play and helps him become an all-around threat, not just in his own half of the field.

“The ball he plays to Brenden, I get excited by,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “He looks off the defenders, he threads that through a window that is incredibly tight with the deception that he puts into that pass. At field level, you could see it and it made two to three guys move in such a way that cleared space.”

“If you could compare to basketball, it was almost like a no-look pass on the fast break that kind of threads the needle so it was a special pass, that one for me was one that I actually shouted up to Chris Albright in the stand.”

McKenzie has made 14 combined league appearances this season, while also making his senior debut for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Despite not having the most consistent season a year ago, McKenzie has picked himself back up and become a consistent defender in the heart of the Union backline.

With the Union aiming to lift a first-ever MLS Cup later this year, McKenzie will need to stay in good form for the club as it continues a push for the No. 1 seed in the East.

“Mark has emerged as one of the best center backs in this league,” Curtin said. “Mark has really stepped it up and I’m really happy to watch him grow and get better each and every game, but two balls to set us up against a team that was playing a pretty aggressive high line.”

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