Philadelphia Union: What’s wrong with Keegan Rosenberry?

CHESTER, PA - JULY 13: Fraizer Campbell
CHESTER, PA - JULY 13: Fraizer Campbell /

Last season, Keegan Rosenberry wasn’t only the best defender on the Philadelphia Union, he also had a case as one of the best right backs in MLS.

Week after week, Rosenberry would shut down some of the best wingers in MLS on his defensive assignments for the Philadelphia Union. How many guys can say that they stopped Ignacio Piatti and Giovani Dos Santos (along with others) in the same season? Rosenberry looked polished beyond his years as he played every minute possible for the Philadelphia Union.

But it wasn’t just his defensive performances that earned Rosenberry plaudits. His bombing runs forward and link up play with fellow rookie Fabian Herbers had Philadelphia Union fans drooling over his potential. There were calls for Rosenberry to make the national team and he did earn a call into January Camp under Bruce Arena. While he was not capped in a friendly, all signs were pointing to another strong year from the right back.

But then the losses came to begin the season. Rosenberry looked less than stellar but it was written off to be an issue with the entire back line not just Rosenberry in particular. In the 3-3 draw, Ray Gaddis seized the starting right back role from Rosenberry and never looked back.

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At first, it seemed to be a temporary measure until Rosenberry (along with Richie Marquez who has similarly fallen out of favor) made his debut for the Bethlehem Steel. The same Bethlehem Steel team that is used to prepare Philadelphia Union prospects for MLS was used to get two regular starters match minutes.

In the penalty kick loss to New York Red Bulls in open cup play, Rosenberry looked lost and scared in possession. He was caught between two minds when playing passes which led to errant passes or turnovers. He wasn’t helped by his partner on the right side, Joshua Yaro who also had a horrific game, but Rosenberry clearly showed why he hasn’t sniffed a starting XI for the Philadelphia Union lately.

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what has gone wrong but this is beyond standard sophomore slump issues and sliding into worrisome territory. Things that were easy for Rosenberry are becoming almost impossible as he is regularly caught out of position and his lack of speed is exploited by teams.

It could be a lack of confidence in himself but that seems too simple to be the full story. The signs were coming to a slip in performance for Rosenberry at the tail end of last season but they were mainly written off as fatigue because he was playing more minutes than he ever played in college.

Looking back it could have been the league finally adjusting to Rosenberry as a player. While he came out of college fully polished, Rosenberry doesn’t have the athletic base of other Union prospects to build on which limits his upside. This isn’t to say that Rosenberry will be a bad defender in MLS but more to say that his expectations should be tempered.

At this point, Rosenberry should be playing weekly at Bethlehem to work through his kinks. He’s not going to return to his prior form by sitting on the bench and MLS games mean too much to keep trotting Rosenberry out there until he figures it out. It would be a tough pill for both the Union and Rosenberry to swallow but it could be the best move for their long-term future.

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Aaron Jones has looked good in Bethlehem and could benefit from some time training with the first team while Rosenberry figures out his game. Effort from youth should be rewarded and right now, Aaron Jones has more of a right to a bench spot than Rosenberry. Hopefully some time playing in Bethlehem will give Rosenberry the time to figure out his game sooner rather than later but for the time being, the team should at least see what they have in Jones.