Before the 2016 United Soccer League season started, Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke spoke about the possibilities for young players in the Philadelphia Union system now that there was a link between the academy and first team squad.
“If Eric Ayuk had Bethlehem Steel to arrive to last year,” Burke said to Kessler Reports in November of 2015, “he would have had been on the field logging 90 minutes from day one as he worked his way into the first team. It gives young players like him an excellent landing pad to cut their teeth in a competitive environment.”
Ayuk and other teenagers, like Auston Trusty, have been given the opportunity in 2016 under Burke to get that playing time. Trusty, a top prospect in the Union’s academy system, has found himself in the limelight, with a starting role and positive feedback from coaches.
The center back has committed to North Carolina after his graduation from high school this year, joining a group of highly touted players, which Top Drawer Soccer has named as the top recruiting class this year. The United States Men’s Youth National Team has called up the 18-year-old on multiple occasions.
But prior to this year, the path to the Union’s MLS squad was not clear. Some players signed right out of high school and the academy. Another signed after a season of NCAA play. Now there’s a direct link for players like Trusty to take advantage of in order to develop and learn, something he’s seen in the form of a current teammate.
“[Derrick] Jones is the icon for the pathway upward,” Trusty said. “He’s the guy who’s done it. So, yeah, he’s the example right now of what I could eventually do.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for everyone,” Trusty said of the USL. “If you have the opportunity to play in the USL out of the academy, why wouldn’t you? It helps you better yourself. It’s a higher level. It’s with professionals. It’s a professional league. It’s an opportunity to continue moving up the system.”
Since his first appearance with Bethlehem, a full 90 minutes against the New York Red Bulls II, Trusty has started an additional two games. Things are on an upward swing for Trusty, whose focus – in spite of accolades and pedigree – is solely focused upon growing as a player and within his role with Bethlehem.
Trusty has taken to leaning on his professionally experience teammates to further his understanding of the game, both on-and-off the field.
“They all have a lot of experience and take me under the wings and teach me,” Trusty said of his Steel FC teammates. “Their attitudes toward winning and getting better – that attitude toward training and playing games, I like it a lot. It’s so different from the attitude within the academy. It’s really helped.
“It’d be good for me to have a partnership in the center that allows me to build a relationship and chemistry. I haven’t had that yet. But I do have Taylor [Washington] and Ryan [Richter] who I have built chemistry with. That’s helped me.”
For Trusty, the coaching staff’s faith in his ability and form means everything to him. He was emphatic he just wants to keep that trust and continue to get better.
“It’s great they believe in me,” Trusty said. “I need to keep on getting better and better to have success. All I want is for the coaches to believe in me.”