Union center back Jack Elliott has logged 2,880 minutes of game time this year. That’s every minute of every game, 32 games to be exact. He is ready for more,with the Philadelphia Union set to play in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season. Elliott chatted with PhillySportsNetwork.com yesterday afternoon to discuss the season so far.
Just three players in MLS have played every minute of every match for their club. Two are current Philadelphia Union players Jack Elliott and Haris Medunjanin, each with 32 starts and 2,880 minutes played. The other? Former Union right back and current Colorado Rapids defender Keegan Rosenberry, traded away for $300k in allocation money in the early stages of this past off-season.
For Elliott, now in his third season with Philadelphia and having just celebrated his 24th birthday last month, he’s enjoying his second season with at least 29 starts and 2,600 minutes played.
When asked whether he expected the opportunity to take hold of one of the starting center backs spots and never concede it when the off-season began, he said “I always have the belief in myself that I am going to be able to play and do well and show myself and show the player that I am.”
In his first two seasons with the Union, Elliott showed just how consistent he can be. In 2017, Elliott tallied a goal and an assist and earned a well-deserved nomination for MLS Rookie of the Year at season’s end. The following year, Elliott saw much less playing time. Despite the decrease in playing time, Elliot earned multiple MLS Team of the Week honors and scored his first multi-goal game in August of 2018 with a two-goal outing.
The fourth-round (77th overall selection) from the 2017 MLS SuperDraft entered the 2019 off-season determined to earn a starting spot with another 30+ game season potentially up for grabs. He earned that spot Week 1 and never looked back, eventually inking a new multi-year contract with a considerable pay raise in May, which extends his stay in Philadelphia until at least the end of the 2021 season.
What’s Elliot’s secret? Nothing special. “A little bit of the luck and preparing for each and every game the right way,” said Elliott. “Eating right and getting the right amount of sleep. A little bit of luck as well helps.”
All too often professional sports ultimately comes down to individual players’ ability to take care of their bodies off the field. The best conditioned teams make impacts, as evidenced by Philadelphia’s continued success this year.
Currently, Philadelphia have four players with over 2,780 minutes played – most in MLS. Union Head Coach Jim Curtin has relied on both Elliott and Medunjanin along with team captain Alejandro Bedoya and long-time Union man Ray Gaddis to eat up large chunks of minutes this year.
It’s a collective effort. Perhaps the ability of veterans like Bedoya, Gaddis, and Medunjanin to stay fit for so long helps contribute to a more cohesive locker room as well.
“It’s a very resilient team,” said Elliott. “The coaching staff, the players, and everyone within the club is resilient.”
Resiliency coupled with a fierce next-man-up mentality has fueled Philadelphia throughout their record-breaking season. At times this season, Elliott paired with three different center backs due to a drop in form from opening day starter Auston Trusty, an injury to back-up Mark McKenzie, and spot starts from long-time MLS defender Aurelien Colin.
“I know their skill-sets… everyone here is at a level where they can step in and do their job at any time,” said Elliott when asked if there’s ever any troubles playing with different teammates next to him from week to week at times.
“It’s a little bit different playing with each one of them but at the same time everyone knows what page each other is on. I think we can make it work well,” said Elliott.
It’s definitely working for Philadelphia. Sure, there have been times where the back line was torched here and there, but there’s never been any consistent failures. In fact, Philadelphia haven’t lost back-to-back matches since the opening month of the season – an accomplishment that Elliott and Curtin are very proud of.
“The fact that we haven’t lost consecutive losses since the first two of the year shows the players’ resiliency,” said Curtin. “To not lose two consecutive games [for so long] is something we’re proud of as a club. To pinpoint what it is exactly, I’d say it’s a stronger mentality.”
The improved mentality has forged the resiliency needed to earn results away from home, even if they trail early.
“We come back from results that don’t go our way and the next game we make that right” said Elliott. “I think that shows the resiliency from everyone.”
In other words, Elliott and his teammates feel they owe it to themselves to improve whenever they falter.
“It’s a good thing, being one nil down and being able to win a game. From behind and not playing the best football, it’s a good sign,” said Elliott.
Wednesday night was perhaps the best example of the team’s ability to rebound and regroup in a snap of a finger. Prior to halftime in San Jose, several Union players were sagging their shoulders, wagging their fingers, and gazing skyward in frustration. That frustration was released inside the visitor’s locker room and the result wasn’t one in which the team splintered. Instead they rallied together.
“It’s not all the time and in every game that you’ll be able to play at the highest level but when that happens you have to just keep concentrating on fighting and finding a way to win and get going,” said Elliott. “That’s what we did the other night and that’s what we can take forward.”
Moving forward, Philadelphia will play at Columbus Crew SC tomorrow, a team that hasn’t lost on their own turf since July 6th and lost just once in their last 11 matches. In other words, the punches keep on coming against Philadelphia. It’s all about whether they can roll with them or not that will determine how they end this grueling road trip.
The third match in just eight days may leave some players enjoying a day off Sunday. But not Elliott, or at least he wouldn’t be thrilled if he is chosen to rest.
Elliott and the rest of the Union back-line including fellow 2019 MLS Defender of the Year nominee Kai Wagner will hope to continue their positive play. A win Sunday and a giant-boost from New England who square off against NYCFC, could pit the Union against NYCFC at home October 6th in a fierce battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference table.
But for now, it’s one match at a time for Elliott and Philadelphia. Sunday at 5PM will be the next test for Curtin’s group with the playoffs just weeks away.
Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports