At just 18-years old and roughly 1,000 miles away from his hometown, Philadelphia Union midfielder and YSC Academy graduate Jack de Vries made his Major League Soccer debut Thursday morning during a 1-0 win against NYCFC.
He entered the match in the 84th minute, relieving team captain Ale Bedoya. Bedoya logged a hearty shift on the pitch and scored the lone goal of the contest in the 63rd minute to help propel Philadelphia to a W but came up limp due to cramps, creating the moment for de Vries’ debut.
“It was a bit of a rush to get me in because Ale and Brenden [Aaronson] both came up with cramps so they wanted to get me in as quick as possible,” said de Vries via a phone call from inside the MLS bubble. “They gave me very brief instructions. With my fresh legs, I had to play smart and adapt to what my team was feeling.”
At that moment, most of de Vries teammates were gassed. The heat index crept up over the 100-degree mark and the sun was unbearable. Yet de Vries was able to aid his team to a victory.
It’s a role you may not expect to see de Vries fill, one he described as “a little bit different.” But given the conditions, every player on Philadelphia’s roster is going to be needed in a variety of ways if they hope to find success in Orlando.
De Vries was instructed to play as an inverted striker and to set up underneath Kacper Przybylko. He was told to remain compact and to be wise when deciding to run forward in search of transition moments.
And for the final 6 minutes plus added stoppage time, de Vries did well enough to help close out a clean-sheet victory over not only just a club rival but a fellow top-tier Eastern Conference team. Which is yet another credit to the potential that head coach Jim Curtin sees in the 18-year Academy graduate.
De Vries wasn’t selected in the final moments of a lob-sided victory. He wasn’t rolled out onto the pitch in the final minutes just to get his name in the box-score and to check ‘debut’ off his list.
He was selected during a crucial part of the match by Curtin. It’s a sign that Curtin trusts his youngsters and knows the ceiling is high for most of them.
“Obviously, there’s going to be those nerves for a debut in MLS,” said de Vries. “I was excited but at the same time a little bit nervous. But I was really grateful to make my MLS debut. It was a pretty big game to make it in too. It felt really good that I was actually being put in to help the team out. From my perspective, I was just itching to get into the game the whole time because I was excited to maybe have a chance.”
Moving forward, de Vries simply wants to build more minutes with the team and make the most of the opportunities he will earn as the tournament rolls on.
A positive debut should provide a solid confidence boost for de Vries. But maybe, more importantly, solid team chemistry off the pitch inside the bubble can aid a young player like de Vries even more.
Pzrybylko mentioned early last week that he felt the team chemistry is at an all-time high. He said if he ever has a problem he can pick up the phone and call any of his teammates for help. Curtin mentioned similar sentiments about the work his guys have put in the last three months just trying to get to know each other more. Mark McKenzie echoed similar sentiments during his time in lockdown as well.
It’s a safe and welcoming team environment. One that most players thrive in. De Vries is no exception.
“To be honest, since post-break our team has actually been clicking,” said de Vries. “We all seem to be sharp coming back from the COVID break. So yeah, I think the team chemistry is at an all-time high since I’ve joined the team at least. Everyone is friends with each other and the team is kind of meshed together.”
If there were cracks in the group or separate factions of teammates that gelled more than others, an environment like the bubble in Orlando could seriously widen those gaps within a team. But for Philadelphia, it’s been the exact opposite. They’ve remained open-minded and kept a strong positive outlook on things and it seems to be working.
“Before the break, there were a couple of groups and you wouldn’t really step outside of your own group. But now everyone is friends and we’re going through everything together,” said de Vries.
And being stuck in the bubble hasn’t been too difficult for de Vries as a result of the chumminess between him and his teammates. Though he surely misses his family and social distancing protocols serve as a constant reminder of just how bleak life for some has become outside of the bubble, de Vries and his teammates are growing closer.
“It’s kind of like you’re hanging out with your friends pretty much all day. And yeah we can’t go into each other’s rooms but during meals it’s nice. Obviously I am going to miss my family but at the same time this is my job so I have to deal with it,” said de Vries.
De Vries will hope to earn more minutes Tuesday night at 10:30 p.m. when Philadelphia plays Inter Miami FC in the second match of Group A play.
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Mandatory Credit: MLS & Philadelphia Union