Rise of Keegan Rosenberry: Former Hoya Climbs MLS Ranks

September 30, 2016

Photo: Philadelphia Union

As fighter jets soared and fireworks flared above Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California on a warm July afternoon, Keegan Rosenberry exited the stadium locker room and looked out onto the soccer pitch. Less than 20 feet from where the underground tunnel met the pristine grass field, the 22-year-old found himself pacing over a carpeted surface that read “Major League Soccer All-Star Game 2016.”

He followed the pre-game procession onto the pitch, where he was met by countless flashing cameras and 18,000 fans whose earsplitting ovation was matched only by the thundering drums that sounded from the stadium PA system. Rosenberry emerged under the San Jose sun accompanied by some of the most recognizable names in professional soccer, from World Cup champions David Villa and Andrea Pirlo to international stars Kaká, Didier Drogba, and Giovani Dos Santos.

Rosenberry wasn’t merely receiving the ultimate soccer fan experience. He shared the same jersey with these soccer legends because he was selected as one of the 11 best players in Major League Soccer. Representing his hometown Philadelphia Union, Rosenberry was the only MLS rookie chosen to start against English Premier League giants Arsenal F.C. in the MLS All-Star Game.

With a coy smirk and bright eyes, the recent Georgetown graduate exchanged pleasantries with the opposing team and jogged out to his starting position at right fullback. The opening whistle blew, and the crowd sat down to watch the best of the MLS compete against the Premier League stars. Rosenberry recognized that this soccer game wasn’t merely an ordinary kick-around, as the rousing ovation he received in San Jose was more grandiose than any pre-game festivities he had participated in during his four seasons of collegiate soccer at Georgetown. Nonetheless, even on the biggest stage in American professional soccer, the young fullback knew that he was fully deserving of sharing the field with the MLS’ best talent.

“I had the time of my life,” Rosenberry said of his experience at the 2016 MLS All-Star Game. “Once I got out there, I just tried to enjoy every moment. Seeing the next level I can perform at and practice at, and just seeing how some of the world class players carry themselves … It was a learning experience and I just tried to soak it all in.”

Within a year, so much has changed for the former Georgetown captain. Rosenberry’s rise to MLS stardom was unprecedented, the latest obstacle that the fullback has had to overcome throughout his soccer career.

“It’s difficult for me to put into words,” Rosenberry said of the chaotic past year and the subsequent recognition and success it has brought him. “The best way I can describe it is that I’m just extremely thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given. I’ve said it before and I think a lot of rookies come into the league with just as much talent, and just as much work ethic as I have. [I’m] thankful that the coaching staff has given me a chance to play this year–I’ve done my best to take advantage of that.”

A little over a year ago, Rosenberry was announced as the captain of a 2015-16 Georgetown men’s soccer team that was ranked No. 3 in the nation in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Preseason Poll. The team rebounded from an underwhelming 0-2-1 start to the season with a victory against the UCLA Bruins, who were at the time ranked No. 1 in the nation. Georgetown’s win against the Bruins was the beginning of a storied run which included a 18-game undefeated streak. With the national recognition that the Hoyas received during this stretch of play, Rosenberry’s stock as a potential MLS prospect began to rise.

“I think it definitely surprised me,” Rosenberry said. “Throughout my career, I was just hoping to play professionally.”

As the streak progressed, Rosenberry, who was an anchor on one of the best defenses in the NCAA, began to receive increased media buzz. At the conclusion of the season, MLS scouts and media outlets began projecting Rosenberry as a potential first round pick, and after an impressive display at the MLS Combine, the Georgetown fullback’s stock was at an all-time high. After trading for the second overall pick and drafting fellow Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro, the Philadelphia Union drafted Rosenberry with the third overall pick in the Draft.

Even after he was chosen by Philadelphia, however, the 22-year-old realized that a tough road awaited him if he were to make the team’s final roster for the Union’s upcoming season.

“The interesting thing about the draft is even if you get drafted in the first round, if you don’t make the team, you can still be cut after your tryout with the team in preseason,” said Rosenberry. “So that was my end goal—just to make the team.”

During Rosenberry’s transition from the college to the professional game, his familiarity with the Philadelphia Union organization proved helpful. The fullback had played within the Union academy system before he ever put on a Georgetown uniform, and he trained with the Union’s first team before beginning his senior season with the Hoyas.

“It gave me confidence when I was drafted by the [Union] to feel like I already belonged there,” said Rosenberry. “I knew which door to go in when we got to the stadium on the first day. I felt like I belonged as opposed to [feeling] like a rookie. I think just knowing some of the staff and knowing some of the players gave me confidence immediately. I felt like I made that transition even easier and there weren’t as many doubts as maybe another rookie would have with another team. So, I think that helped me a lot.”

Rosenberry made his first start for the Union at fullback less than a month after the MLS Superdraft, in a preseason contest against the Chicago Fire. Though his team lost, Rosenberry impressed his teammates and coaching staff. As the Union’s preseason campaign progressed, Rosenberry notched several more starts for Philadelphia and found himself in the conversation for a starting spot at right back for the Union with the MLS season on the horizon.

On March 6th, with the Union poised to open their regular season MLS campaign against Western Conference powerhouse FC Dallas, the 22-year-old Rosenberry, who had just months before left the Hilltop in pursuit of a career in professional soccer, was selected to the Union’s starting lineup.

“I definitely didn’t expect [to start], but as preseason continued and I started more games, I heard good things from the coaching staff,” said Rosenberry. “It kind of seemed like it was going to happen and it was exciting. But for me, I tried not to look too much into it. For me, being in that first game in front of a real crowd that I really ever experienced, it was nice to kind of have the warm-up and be [in Dallas] the day before. Taking in the surroundings makes it that much easier to settle in to the first couple minutes.”

It turns out that Rosenberry’s start in the Union’s opening contest against FC Dallas was just the beginning for the rising star. The fullback has started and played a full 90 minutes in each of Philadelphia’s 29 games this season, and leads the MLS in minutes played. The former Georgetown captain shined against the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 11th, making crucial defensive stops in one-on-one positions against Galaxy strikers Giovani Dos Santos and Robbie Keane, and scoring his first MLS goal to help the Union earn a 2-2 tie against Los Angeles.

Rosenberry’s individual success has had a remarkable impact upon the Philadelphia Union, who wallowed at the bottom of the MLS with the league’s second-worst record in 2015, but now find themselves in the playoff hunt with just five games left to play in the regular season. Rosenberry himself is in the conversation for MLS Rookie of the Year and, even more remarkably, has had his name mentioned for a potential call-up to the United States Men’s National Team.

“I think it should be every player’s goal to play for the national team and to represent their country,” said Rosenberry. “That’s always been a goal of mine, but those kind of awards and those call-ups and stuff like that are things you can’t control. It’s out of your hands. Just like I talked about with any of the articles written or any of the media attention or the All-Star game, that [attention] isn’t going to continue to be put in front of me if I don’t continue to work hard and do what I’m doing, be open to listening to coaches and learning. So, that’s been one of my biggest focuses.”

Rosenberry’s decisive confidence on the pitch is complemented by his appreciable modesty off it, as he has attributed much of the success he has enjoyed to the help of his former teammates and coaches who prepared him to thrive at the highest level of United States professional soccer. Even after appearing in the MLS All-Star Game, and competing night in and night out with some of the best talent in the MLS, the 22-year-old still fondly looks back on his time at Georgetown, which he says allowed him to grow as both a player and a man.

“I’m thankful I went to a place like Georgetown with a staff and a group of guys that prepared me for the next level,” said Rosenberry.

Though the Georgetown men’s soccer team started its season 0-4 in 2016, Rosenberry still says that he makes a concerted effort to watch his alma mater when they play, and also to keep in contact with his former teammates who still wear the Blue and Gray. However, despite the Hoyas’ slow start to their 2016 season, Rosenberry doesn’t reach out to his former teammates with the sole purpose of trying to help Georgetown turn things around this season.

“They can handle themselves, and they can figure out how to operate the team,” said Rosenberry. “That’s what builds leadership, is how well the captains bring the team together in times of defeats. It was a tough start to the season and I think they know that. But yeah, every now and then I’ll shoot them a text and keep in touch with all of them. Especially playing on a team like that that is so close, you have friends for a lifetime that you’re building relationships with.”

The prosperity that Rosenberry has enjoyed with the Union this season is something that he hasn’t taken lightly, but the former Georgetown captain has exhibited within the last year what it takes for a college soccer player to make a seamless transition to the professional game. Rosenberry is not the first Georgetown player to achieve success beyond the college level, but just how much he has accomplished in such a short time is remarkable and serves as a model for future Georgetown players looking to achieve similar success. Still, Rosenberry believes that for the Hoyas, individual success should not be the ultimate goal.

“I think the great thing about Georgetown and their coaching staff and the national recognition that we started to get is that it operates itself,” said Rosenberry. “If you guys perform on the field, it’s going to take care of itself. [Georgetown Head] Coach [Brian] Wiese always talks about that. The team’s success is going to generate individual awards and accolades and success. I think the best thing [Georgetown] can do is just perform well as a team and continue to play well as a group, and I think the individual stuff will come into fruition because of that.”

If anything, this team-first mentality has already started producing results. Including his Union teammate Yaro, Rosenberry was one of six Georgetown players taken in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. And while the fullback’s rise has been exceptional, it is not so far-fetched that future Georgetown soccer players could follow a similar path.

A lot has changed for Keegan Rosenberry within the past year, but it wasn’t so long ago that he was taking classes on the Hilltop and practicing on Shaw Field. Just like so many Georgetown students, Rosenberry had the dream of tackling the professional world after college, even if his aspirations didn’t exactly mirror those of his peers.

In his quick but fastidious rise to MLS stardom, Rosenberry proved that for the professional attire of a Georgetown graduate, laced cleats and shin guards fit just as well as a suit and tie.

Jon Block
Jon was podcast editor, Halftime leisure editor, and Halftime sports editor for the Voice. You can follow him on Twitter @jon_block_ but not on Instagram because he doesn't have one.

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