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Why 2021 could be Auston Trusty’s breakout year with the Colorado Rapids

The young defender looks to rebound in 2021.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

The Colorado Rapids have gained a reputation in MLS in the last few years — a reputation for taking under-played, but clearly talented, youngsters off other clubs’ rosters. Kellyn Acosta, Jonathan Lewis, and Lalas Abubakar are the best examples of “distressed assets” who were signed by the Rapids only to turn their careers around and become crucial pieces for the team.

Ahead of the 2020 season, the Rapids snapped up another distressed asset, then-Philadelphia Union center back Auston Trusty in what was a blockbuster move. Perhaps the deal was overshadowed by the Rapids permanently acquiring fan-favorite Abubakar the very same day, but the Rapids paid a very pretty penny for Trusty — as much as $750,000 in league-issued Allocation Money.

Trusty was a rock for the Union in 2018, playing every minute of the regular season. 2019 started off brightly, too, but Trusty didn’t make a single appearance for the final three months of the season. Following this lack of game time and form, the Rapids snapped him up.

But things didn’t improve much for Trusty in Commerce City, as he was stuck behind Danny Wilson at left center back for the whole season, making only eight appearances for the Rapids, subbing on for three of them.

So, what’s gone wrong with Trusty in the last two or so years?

In 2019, Trusty lost his starting spot to Mark McKenzie, one of the most exciting USMNT center back prospects, who secured a multi-million dollar move to Europe this past winter. Losing the spot to him was understandable. But, the thing that stood out at the time was that he fell behind MLS veteran Aurelian Collin on the depth chart. As Tom Bogert put it, Trusty went “from first choice to fourth in a blink of an eye.”

When asked about the trade away from Philly, Trusty made some vague but interesting statements to MLSsoccer.com, saying: “I’m absolutely motivated by that stuff,” he continued. “If you were in my shoes, and knew the whole story, it would create a fire in your stomach, too.”

Purely speculating, but I’d say the obvious explanation for these vague quotes is that Trusty had a falling out with the staff in Philadelphia. Trusty’s comments regarding the way this mysterious incident motivates him and leaves a fire in his stomach makes it seem as though something had to have happened with Philadelphia in 2019. But, as Trusty himself said in the very same interview, “It’s the past.”

There are many outside factors that could explain Trusty’s struggles to settle in Colorado, the most obvious being the global pandemic that took the world by storm in March 2020 and beyond. It was also Trusty’s first time leaving home, as he had been with the Union since he was eight years old. Getting settled in a new city in the middle of a pandemic isn’t exactly easy (just ask Kai Havertz or Timo Werner).

But, before the pandemic set in, while the club was in preseason, Trusty had a less-than-ideal start to his Rapids tenure. He struggled in preseason, which again could simply be due to being with a new team.

Then, he made his Rapids debut at possibly the worst time. At the MLS is Back Tournament, the Rapids were cruising 1-0 over Sporting Kansas City before Danny Wilson was sent off on a foul against Khiry Shelton and Trusty was thrown into the match, defending a tight lead down a man. Captain Jack Price got sent off moments later, the Rapids conceded a goal, then conceded a dubious penalty, and suddenly found themselves down 2-1. Jonathan Lewis leveled the match for nine-man Colorado in miraculous fashion, before a Sam Vines own-goal in stoppage time gave Sporting all three points.

But, Trusty played fairly well against SKC. And in his second start — a 1-1 draw with Houston in September — Trusty also played well, even hitting the crossbar with a header. But his next start couldn’t have gone much worse, as the Rapids lost 4-1 in Texas against FC Dallas. Trusty rebounded well, however, making the most of his limited minutes. He showed glimpses of his 2018 form against Seattle and San Jose, where he picked up his first assist in Burgundy in the latter, setting up Nicolas Mezquida for the fourth goal in a 5-0 victory.

Yet, despite his promising performances toward the end of the season, in the Rapids’ most important match of the season — their playoff date with the Loons in Minnesota — Trusty was left out of the starting 11. The Rapids season ended that night.

Trusty’s lack of minutes in 2020, especially considering the highly condensed schedule, was strange. Was he performing poorly in training? Having a hard time adjusting to life in Colorado? Only Auston will know if that’s all true. Perhaps another factor leading to Trusty’s limited minutes was a clause in his trade that would’ve made the Rapids send as much as $150,000 more of Allocation Money to Philadelphia if Trusty met certain performance thresholds.

Now, after his chaotic and truth-be-told difficult two or so years, where does Trusty stand for the club, as well as country?

Trusty inked a new contract in December, keeping him in Denver until at least 2023. On the surface, this clearly shows that the club has faith in Trusty and believes he can become a crucial part of the organization for years to come. Executive Vice President and General Manager Padraig Smith expanded on that, saying, “Auston is a young, talented defender who has already proven himself in MLS and shown tremendous potential.”

A few days before his extension, Smith had even more praise for Trusty: “If you were to build a center back, having a left-footed six-foot-four athletic center back is exactly how you’d design it. When you look at that position, so much of it comes down to experience, an understanding and ability to read the game, and these are all things that come over time ... I think Auston is continuing in his development pathway and I think he’s proven that he’s a very good defender in this league, and we expect him to continue to improve and to continue to contribute to the group.”

It’s clear Smith and the Rapids rate Trusty, and seem to be very confident in his future with the club.

As for country, Trusty was a rising prospect for the USMNT before his falling out in Philadelphia, earning a plethora of caps at varying levels of youth national team football. Trusty returned to the USMNT this winter, as he earned a call-up to the USMNT camp for Olympic qualifying but didn’t make the final 20-man roster. But, getting a call-up in a very deep U-23 center back pool is promising and he did survive the first round of roster cuts.

With his new contract, tons of praise from management, and now getting settled in Colorado, 2021 could be Trusty’s year. It’s just about winning his spot.

Trusty’s biggest competition comes from fellow left-footed center back Danny Wilson, who also signed a contract extension this winter. Trusty is at a bit of a disadvantage, as he missed a bulk of preseason away with the national team, but the spot could still be his for the taking.

Trusty has one big advantage over Wilson, which is simply age. Trusty will be 23 this summer, while Wilson turned 29 in December. Even if 2021 isn’t the year Trusty makes the starting spot his, he has plenty of time to do it down the road.

Trusty’s situation is fluid, and I don’t expect him to start the Rapids’ first match this season against Dallas this Saturday, as he hasn’t been with the team as long as Wilson, but Trusty could win the spot as the season progresses.

I’ve been high on Trusty since he signed for Colorado (My Twitter bio says “Auston Trusty stan account”), and I do truly believe 2021 will be his year to break out and take the league by storm… again. With a new contract, a much-more-controlled pandemic, and more than a year to settle in the Mile High City, Trusty could become a critical piece for Colorado this year.

Trusty and the Rapids open their 2021 campaign in Texas against FC Dallas this Saturday, before welcoming expansion side Austin FC to Dicks Sporting Goods Park on April 24, the first match with fans since March of 2020. I look forward to seeing some of you there.