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SSFC Spotlight: Auston Trusty rebounds with strong year for Colorado Rapids

The center back is living up to high potential.

Colorado Rapids v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team’s annual winter camp is traditionally where domestic players make their mark, earning a spot after a strong season in Major League Soccer. Auston Trusty is one such player, emerging as a leader on the back line for the Colorado Rapids. While having been a part of the program in the past, the 23-year-old center back appears to be on an upward trajectory half a decade into his professional career.

Trusty was born in Media, Pennsylvania, amassing the résumé of the superlative American child: standout multi-sport athlete (basketball, football, soccer, and baseball), charity work, and student council president. Growing up his inspiration was older sister, Onnie Nicholson, a youth player for the women’s national team program. The defender played with Nether United Soccer Club and Penncrest High School, winning a USYS Regional Championship before joining the Philadelphia Union Academy in 2011. He attended the IMG Academy in Florida for two years before transferring to the YSC Academy in Pennsylvania.

In 2016, Trusty joined the club’s reserve side, Bethlehem Steel (now Philadelphia Union II), on an amateur contract and earned praise for his mentality, despite being the youngest player on the roster. “Jim [Curtin] and myself sat down with Auston and told him that he needs to work on his passing,” said former Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, now in the same role with the United States Soccer Federation. “Now, a lot of guys just sit in the locker room, they’ll wait for [the coach] to come and say, ‘Let’s go outside and pass.’ Auston – you talk about self-regulation – he grabs a ball, goes out himself, and asks if [teammates] will pass the ball with him.”

In August of that year, Trusty signed a Homegrown contract, turning down a scholarship with the University of North Carolina. Over the next two seasons, he made 45 total appearances in the USL Championship. Described as “a bit of a ball-watcher,” Philadelphia helped improve his positioning and distribution, providing constant support on and off the field.

Trusty made his first-team debut on Opening Day in 2018 and played 90 minutes in every match, forming a partnership with Mark McKenzie. The young defender emerged as a stalwart for the Union, leading the squad to the playoffs and a spot in the final of the U.S. Open Cup. He scored his first career goal in a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Impact (now CF Montréal). The league selected him to the annual “22 Under 22” list, placing him at tenth.

The next season started on a similar note, with Trusty firmly entrenched on the back-line. He played 22 matches but was relegated to the bench in August, never to make another appearance in a Union jersey. There appeared to be some lingering frustration surrounding his demotion, particularly with his contract winding down.

“I can’t really get into it right now, but at some point in the future, you guys will know the truth,” he shared with The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I developed my personal self, I think – learning more about how soccer goes, the business of soccer and just how everything goes within the soccer realm. I was naïve, and I didn’t really know much about it. But I think I’ve learned, and become a better person and a bigger player, a smarter player.”

The club traded him to the Colorado Rapids for allocation money and a 30% sell-on fee, a move that “didn’t sit right” after being such a key player. His debut came following the COVID-19 break, appearing at the MLS is Back Tournament. He played in eight matches that season, finally breaking into the rotation but did not appear in the playoff match. Burgundy Wave cited preseason struggles for his slow start, likely “due to being with a new team.”

“Last year was a difficult year with COVID and everything like that,” he told the Rapids’ official website. “It was a different kind of environment. For me, it was hard to get to know everybody on a personal level. There was no locker room. There was no environment for us to even get to know each other.”

Despite the lessened minutes, Trusty signed a contract extension with the Rapids through 2023. He had a true breakthrough this season, starting and playing 90 minutes in all but one match as the club finished at first place in the Western Conference. The 23-year-old was a key player for the squad, developing under the watchful eye of manager Robin Fraser, a former defender.

At the international level, Trusty was a regular in the United States program. He made one appearance at the 2015 U-17 World Cup, starting and earning a red card in the first group stage match, a 2-0 loss to Nigeria. At the 2017 U-20 World Cup, the defender was a late addition to the roster, played in two matches, and scored in the 6-0 romp over New Zealand in the Round of 16.

Gregg Berhalter called him up to the senior team for winter camp 2019. The defender failed to appear in the friendlies against Panama and Costa Rica. He earned another invitation to this year’s edition and should receive an opportunity against Bosnia to show growth.

“Everyone is on the same page now,” Trusty said in advance of the friendly. “Everyone knows what Gregg wants; everyone knows how the team wants to play and where players are supposed to be. You see it all coming together. It’s rising really.”

A left-footed center back, Trusty possesses optimal size at 6’3” and performs the necessary defensive responsibilities in multiple formations. Colorado has also utilized him at wing back on a five-player back line. He is an effective passer and registered one “shot-creating action” per match during the 2021 season, an improvement on a past weakness in possession-based tactics. According to Total Football Analysis, his aggressive nature and spatial awareness allow him to “push out of the defensive line to challenge an opposing attacker” and “win the ball back for his team.”

As the international game is focused on stability and limiting mistakes, center back will remain a position of great importance far beyond the current World Cup cycle. Trusty was forced to leave his childhood club and, after an adjustment period, has returned to his strong 2018 form that initially brought him to the national team. While many players would have been unable to reverse course and saw their careers continue to slump, he rebounded and reestablished himself as a top talent in MLS. If his development continues, the next steps could be a transfer to Europe and a regular spot in the national team’s back line rotation.