The meteoric rise of former EDP Soccer standout Mark McKenzie continues to soar to new heights.
Celtic, which has won an astounding nine successive Scottish Premier Division titles, reportedly expressed interest in the center back recently. Now, that is pretty impressive for a 21-year-old who has only 31 Major League Soccer matches under his belt.
McKenzie? He is taking the news in stride, trying to stay focused in the tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. as the Union prepares to meet Sporting Kansas City in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
Looking back at McKenzie's start at Delaware Rush, Justin Romano, who coached McKenzie at the club, said: “Mark started at Delaware Rush at 12 years old. It was evident from an early age he was physical unlike anyone I had ever coached, but what separated Mark and made him the man he is today is his ability to be a leader. The current players looked up to him and were drawn to him immediately. His mental toughness and ability to lead are put on display every game he plays with the Union.”
Andrew Vanover, Delaware Rush’s Director of Coaching, added: “When Mark first came to us at an early age we knew he had something special. His drive and work ethic was second to none. His values, such as respect and dedication were evident right from the get go. We are proud to be apart of his developmental pathway and to share his journey to the Philadelphia Union and US National Team.”
Fast forward to today, while his bio might say he is 21, McKenzie — a member of the U.S. team that will attempt to qualify for the 2021 Summer Olympics — sounds like a wizened old soul who gets it and then some.
"It's always a blessing to draw interest from clubs in Europe," he said Tuesday." As a kid you dream of playing for the top clubs in the world and playing in the top leagues and the Champions League. But it's a matter of the individual, being humble. My parents put that in me as a young kid, never get too high in those good moments and never get too low so things balance out. It's great and all that there's interest. It's exciting. I'm here to do my job and that's to help the club (Philadelphia Union) any way I can. So right now, I am focused on helping the team and ultimately keeping clean sheets. As a defender that is my main priority and help Philly get this win and move onto the final, bring silverware back home."
Not surprisingly, Union head coach Jim Curtin is a big fan of the 5-11, 185-lb. McKenzie.
"It's no secret that the money in our league is spent on attacking players and there's some darn good ones week in and week out that you have to deal with," he said. "For a player as young as Mark to raise his level no matter who he's playing against and at times makes it look effortless is something that catches scouts’ eyes, catches certainly our technical staff's eyes."
Needless to say, Curtin felt that McKenzie was the real deal with many positive facets to his game.
"Mark has all the elements you want in a center back," he said. "He's very strong physically. He can win his physical duels; he jumps well and can win headers. He plays bigger than he is. He's probably 6-foot, but he plays like a 6-foot-4 center back because of the athleticism he possesses."
Wait - there's more! That's just only the tip of the proverbial iceberg because of his ability with the ball, not just defending someone but possessing the ball as well.
"His work with the ball and how he can pass through the lines is something that really catches the eye," Curtin said. "And he can play with both feet, which for the modern center back you're on the ball a lot. You're one of the few players on the field who isn't under the most pressure. So, his ability to dribble the ball and to pass the ball through the line, with his left foot, his right foot. He can hit a 50-60-yard diagonal with his weak foot.
"So, it’s something when you go through all the boxes in what you want in a modern-day center back, Mark checks a lot of them," Curtin said. "That's a real positive thing. He is dealing with some of the top strikers in our league week in and week out. For a 21-year-old kid, the sky's the limit for him."