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The Set Pieces Sits Down with Jack Elliott

From London Amateur to MLS Professional: Interview with Philadelphia Union’s Jack Elliott

By Greg Lea

The path between European football and Major League Soccer has become a well-trodden one in recent years, with Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, David Villa, Thierry Henry, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and Kaka among those who have crossed the Atlantic in the latter stages of their career.

It isn’t just high-profile stars in their 30s who have made the move stateside, though. Philadelphia Union centre-back Jack Elliott was born in London but has only ever played professional football in the US, having been scouted while representing an amateur team in his hometown. It’s safe to say the switch from Sunday League to MLS, via the West Virginia University team, has been a surreal one for the 22-year-old.

“It was a crazy experience playing against them,” Elliott tells The Set Pieces, referring to opponents such as David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, all of whom the centre-back locked horns with in his debut campaign of 2017.

“Luckily I started off easy playing my first start at home against David Villa! But it was amazing. He’s one of the toughest strikers I’ve played against. His movement and speed are still world class, making him a difficult opponent to play against.”

Trying to keep a World Cup winner quiet is a very different challenge to marking a hungover centre-forward on a mud-caked pitch in south London, but Elliott owes plenty to his experiences in the English capital’s amateur divisions.

“I played for Fulham academy for a year when I was 12, but I got released and then mainly just played Sunday league and school football. As I got older I moved into men’s football, where I was spotted by a coach [Dan Stratford] from West Virginia University – he was playing in the same game. He asked me if I wanted to go and play over there, and I had no second thoughts about it.”

It was an incredibly exciting proposition for a football-mad teenager who had long dreamt of a professional career, but the prospect of suddenly moving more than 3500 miles from home must have been daunting too. Thankfully for Elliott, he arrived in West Virginia to find a terrific setup both on and off the pitch.

“You train as a professional almost every day, working around a regular university life, and it’s surprisingly professional: the facilities are top-class, the pitches are good and you’re well looked after with gear and equipment,” the defender says of his experience in the US college system, which allows promising young athletes to combine sport and education. Does he think such an arrangement could work in Europe?

“I’m not sure it’s better in terms of producing top quality players, but it helps to catch the ones who may have slipped through the cracks of the top academies,” says Elliott, who received an academic scholarship to study Management Information Systems in the US.

“Going through the college system allows you to get a degree, which was one of the reasons I had no questions about it, but the quality of football, facilities and fans are something I might not have experienced had I stayed at home.”

The 6ft 5in stopper played 68 games for the West Virginia Mountaineers between 2013 and 2016, before being selected by Philadelphia Union in the fourth round of the 2017 SuperDraft, an annual event in which MLS clubs snap up players who have either graduated from college or been signed by the league.

“It was one of the best days of my life,” Elliott recalls. “Philadelphia was a place I’d been many times before and really enjoyed, plus it wasn’t too far from West Virginia.”

The young defender, described by Union sporting director Earnie Stewart as a “good passer who reads the game well”, was an unused substitute for early-season meetings with Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto and Orlando City, before making his MLS bow from the bench in a 2-1 loss to D.C. United. Elliott performed well despite the disappointing result, and he soon became a regular part of manager Jim Curtin’s starting XI.

“It all happened very quickly. The second game of the season I was in the 18 [matchday squad] for the first team, and then I played 45 minutes at D.C.,” he told the club’s YouTube channel.

“It allowed the coaches to see I could handle the pressure of the league. And then the next week I was starting. It all came very quickly and I’m very thankful for it.

“When I got subbed in, I had 15 minutes to think about it. It’s not a lot of time; I was just warming up. It was good that I didn’t have time to think about it. I just went out there and played the way I play.”

It can be particularly tough for young centre-backs to establish themselves in the first team, with many managers unwilling to risk inexperienced players in such a key position. Yet by the end of the 2017 season, Elliott had made 30 appearances in MLS and racked up more minutes than all but two of his Union team-mates.

The quality of his performances caught the eye even more than the quantity. The Londoner played with a maturity which belied his tender years, as the Union finished eighth in the Eastern Conference. Elliott’s displays were so consistently impressive that he was nominated for the MLS Rookie of the Year Award, which was ultimately won by Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel.

“I didn’t expect to play as much [as I did], no,” he admits. “But from my first few weeks there I could see it was a place where I could belong.

“It was a good feeling,” he adds when talk turns to his third-place finish in the newcomer vote. “I’d never have expected to be there at the start of the year, so it was nice to get that sort of recognition at the end of it.”

Compatriot Aaron Jones departed the Talen Energy Stadium in November, but Elliott isn’t the only Brit in the Union squad for the 2018 campaign, which has begun with a 2-0 victory over New England Revolution and a goalless draw with Columbus Crew. Former Arsenal and Hull forward Jay Simpson is also in his second year in MLS, having moved to Philadelphia from Leyton Orient a few weeks before Elliott signed on the dotted line.

“Football in the US is still growing so obviously it isn’t as big as it is in the UK,” Elliott says of the differences between the two countries. “As kids they don’t play it every day in school and they don’t see it as much on TV. I feel kids here don’t get to play enough unstructured football, which in some ways can help to develop a player in different ways than structured coaching does.”

It’s an interesting point and one which the powers that be at the US Soccer Federation would be wise to consider as the national team attempts to bounce back from its failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup. Elliott cannot afford to dwell on such big-picture issues for too long, though, with his focus now firmly on his second season with the Union.

“Individually I’d like to build on what I did last year and improve as a player,” he says of his hopes for the campaign ahead. “And as a team our ambition is to get to the play-offs and make a run there.”

If Elliott can replicate last season’s performances this time around, Philadelphia Union will fancy their chances of achieving that goal.

View on The Set Pieces.

Jack Elliott Trains With English Premier League Club

IPZ Athlete Prepares for 2018 MLS Season with Swansea City A.F.C.

WARREN, NJ, January 12, 2018 – Jack Elliott, 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year second runner-up and Philadelphia Union center-back, wrapped up a week-long training stint with Swansea City A.F.C. of the English Premier League (top-flight professional soccer league in England).

Elliott returned home to his native England following completion of his successful rookie campaign with the Philadelphia Union. Before travelling back to the U.S. for the start of pre-season training camp for the 2018 MLS season, Elliott was able to stay fit and have the unique experience of training in an English Premier League environment. Since being promoted to the Premier League ahead of the 2011-2012 season, the club based in Swansea, Wales has finished as high as eighth in the 2014-2015 campaign.

“It was a good experience for me to test myself against some top class opposition and see what other training environments are like, especially at the highest level,” said Elliott. “It was good preparation for preseason.”

“The English Premier League is widely considered to be the top professional soccer league in the world,” said IPZ Managing Director Jeff Curtin. “The quality of player, competition, and pressure within the league creates an environment that, I think, is great for young players to experience. Through Swansea City, we had the opportunity to give Jack this experience, which I think will only help him as he prepares for the 2018 season with the Philadelphia Union.”

About IPZ: IPZ represents clients in sports, media, and entertainment, providing management, contract negotiations, consulting, public relations and marketing communications support. The company, an alliance with Zito Partners, is built on the integrity of its professionals, maintains a family focus, and provides whole life solutions for its clients. For more information, visit www.ipzusa.com.

About Zito Partners: Zito Partners builds, energizes and defends brands. A boutique firm representing a select group of clients from a range of industries, Zito Partners believes in a “ready, aim, fire” approach – understand the client…develop the appropriate strategy against the key target constituencies…and execute against the plan. And through its strategic alliance with Ketchum, Ketchum Zito Financial, Zito Partners is assisting additional clients with their financial communications needs. For more information, visit www.zitopartners.com.

SoccerAmerica Names Jack Elliott 6th Best MLS Centerback

No team gets very far without a solid, reliable set of centerbacks, and in many cases the abilities of the individuals are not as important as how well they work together.

An increased popularity of three-man back lines changes the responsibilities and roles of those in that last line of defense in front of the goalkeeper, yet the basic attributes are unchanged. Centerbacks must be reliable tacklers, solid markers, and tough in the air at both ends of the field. Positioning and anticipation can make up for a relative lack of pace on balls played over the top or into an open channel.

Some players will toggle between the central slots in a four-man back line, yet most prefer one side or the other. The players listed here are primarily right-sided and have been most successful on that side of the defense. If a player appeared mainly as the middle man of a three-defender system, he is listed here.

SA Top 10: Centerbacks (Right)
1. Ike Opara (Sporting KC)
2. Kendall Waston (Vancouver)
3. Drew Moor (Toronto FC)
4. Adolfo Machado (Houston)
5. Johan Kappelhof (Chicago)
6. Jack Elliott (Philadelphia)
7. Roman Torres (Seattle)
8. Victor Cabrera (Montreal)
9. Victor Bernardez (San Jose)
10. Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United)

View more online: https://www.socceramerica.com/publications/article/76183/mls-positional-rankings-centerbacks-right-opar.html

Union’s Jack Elliott an MLS Rookie of the Year Finalist

Union centerback Jack Elliott earned some well-deserved recognition on Tuesday for his strong debut season, as he was named a finalist for Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year award.

Elliott surprisingly became a stalwart of the team’s defense this year. He was drafted in the fourth round out of West Virginia, which is rare territory to find potential pros. Elliott was one of just two picks in this year’s fourth round who saw any playing time in MLS. None of last year’s fourth-round picks have broken through yet, and only four fourth-round picks from 2015 have done so.

The 22-year-old Englishman was quickly thrown into the fire, making his Union debut on April 1. He ended up playing in 30 of the Union’s 34 league games, making 29 starts, and played every minute in all but three of the starts. He also started and played every minute of the team’s two U.S. Open Cup games. His disciplinary record was sterling: just four yellow cards and one red card.

View more online: http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/soccer/philadelphia-union-jack-elliott-mls-rookie-award-julian-gressel-atlanta-20171031.html

Jack Elliott Nominated for Rookie of the Year

The league’s worst kept secret is now official.

Jack Elliott is one of 17 players nominated for AT&T Rookie of the Year, and he holds one of the best, if not the best, case out of the bunch.

Selected in the fourth round at 77th overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Elliott was not expected to be a repeat contributor for the team. Players picked that late in the draft are usually projects who spend time developing their game before becoming everyday players. And that’s how Elliott’s season looked at the beginning.

Elliott played a match for Bethlehem Steel FC, where he notched an assist in his first professional assist. He then spent two games in the game day 18 for the Union, before being thrusted into his MLS debut at halftime in the Union’s fourth game of the season, after Richie Marquez was forced to leave the match.

He performed well, but was out of the starting lineup the next match. Against New York City FC, Elliott earned his first start of his career. He hasn’t left the starting XI since.

Since his start, the Union rolled off the longest winning streak in team history, a six-game and four-game unbeaten streak, the team’s longest shutout streak, and set the record for most home wins in a season. He’s been a part of a backline which has allowed the second fewest road goals in team history, and helped Andre Blake record his lowest goals against average in his career.

In terms of individual production, Elliott is near the top of nearly every Union defensive stat, and is one of the best of all MLS defenders in blocks and clearances. He also has been a workhorse on the field, logging the third-most minutes played on the Union.

Jack Elliott’s play has certainly placed him in the running for Rookie of the Year, and now it’s official. Now it’s time for him to become the first defender since Austin Berry in 2012 to win the award.

To see the full list of nominees for Rookie of the Year, click here.

View online: https://www.philadelphiaunion.com/post/b/2017/10/13/jack-elliott-nominated-rookie-year

Jack Elliott worthy of Rookie of Year consideration, Curtin says

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Philadelphia Union have never had a Rookie of the Year winner, though Jim Curtin thinks that could change very soon.

Philly’s coach declared as such after his side’s 3-0 loss at the New England Revolution last Saturday, one where first-year center back Jack Elliott was a bright spot on an otherwise dreary night.

“For me, I think he’s been the Rookie of the Year,” Curtin said of Elliott. “He’s played at that level and I thought he was excellent again tonight.”

When asked about his coach’s remarks, the 6-foot-5 Elliott responded true to character: Humble, soft spoken and driven.

“It’s nice to hear that kind of praise from the coach,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t really change anything; I’ve still got to perform every week. Nothing is decided. To be of that caliber you have to perform all the way through the season. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Still, it’s hard not to reflect upon how the 21-year-old is of a different mold and backstory than Cyle Larin and Jordan Morris, MLS’s last two Rookie of the Year winners. The former is a star for Orlando City SC, while the latter just scored the game-winning goal in the Gold Cup final for the US national team.

Elliott, meanwhile, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft after playing at West Virginia University. He was, at best, a long shot for even making the roster, but now he’s started 17 consecutive games in the heart of the Union’s defense.

It’s a trajectory that few expected, and Elliott himself was quick to shy away from praise when asked about the key to his success.

“Just going through the same routine every week,” Elliott said. “Eating healthy, sleeping, all that kind of stuff that helps you perform. Then obviously going out every day and competing against our boys in training and at the weekend against other teams.”

Read the full story here: https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2017/07/30/jack-elliott-worthy-rookie-year-consideration-curtin-says

Philly Voice: Union’s Jack Elliott quietly playing himself into Rookie of the Year conversation

When Montreal and Real Salt Lake passed in the third round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, the Union kept looking for that late-round gem.

They found it with the 77th overall pick, a 6’5″ center back and defensive midfielder from West Virginia University that no one had really heard of.

Jack Elliott was the last of the five Union draft picks to sign a professional contract, but he inked his deal with the senior team and not Bethlehem Steel, where we all thought the 21-year-old London native might start his professional career.

That wasn’t the case, and Elliott quickly found himself higher up the depth chart than anyone had imagined, jumping Ken Tribbett as fourth in line with Oguchi Onyewu already stepping in for the injured Josh Yaro.

If a starter went down, Elliott was the next man up, and that’s exactly what happened on April 1st when Richie Marquez came out at halftime in the 2-1 loss at D.C. United.

Elliott went back to the bench for one game only, then got a chance to start on April 14th and hasn’t relinquished his position since, playing 13 straight games since claiming the RCB job.

The Union now have six wins, four losses, and three draws in Elliott’s 13 starts, conceding 12 goals and scoring 20 for a +8 goal differential. He’s contributed to six clean sheets and hasn’t been carded in nine straight games, forming an unlikely but incredibly successful partnership with a 35-year-old veteran.

Read the full story here: http://www.phillyvoice.com/unions-jack-elliott-quietly-playing-himself-into-rookie-of-the-year-conversation/

Jack Elliott Gets Some Love from Section 215

Philadelphia Union: With each clean sheet, Jack Elliott’s star rises

With the impressive performances by the Philadelphia Union of late, a star is being born in central defense.

The Philadelphia Union have kept four straight clean sheets. This is a sentence that I never expected to write when the Philadelphia Union were hemorrhaging goals at a Chivas USA rate. Credit must be given to Jim Curtin for changing the personnel along the back line and causing them to play a more compact game.

One of the biggest surprises in Curtin’s changes has been the insertion of Jack Elliott as the right center back. Occupying a role that was meant for Joshua Yaro, Elliott has stepped in looking well beyond his years.

Hailing from London, it’s a “lucky coincidence” that Elliott’s journey led to the United States. He was playing for Old Wilsonians Football Club at home when a scout for West Virginia University discovered him. Elliott took the offer playing four years for the Mountaineers making appearances in the midfield and along the backline.

His success in college led to Elliott being drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Union. While it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, Elliott impressed the coaching staff in the preseason, leading to his debut performance. When Richie Marquez couldn’t continue against DC United, Elliott stepped in and didn’t miss a beat.

View more online: https://section215.com/2017/05/19/philadelphia-union-jack-elliott/

JACK ELLIOTT SIGNS WITH THE PHILADELPHIA UNION

IPZ Athlete Signs His First Professional Contract

WARREN, NJ, February 27, 2017 — Jack Elliott has signed an MLS contract with the Philadelphia Union, who selected Elliott as their fourth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft in January.

“We are excited to welcome Jack to the Union as he officially signs an MLS contract and joins our centerback group,” said Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart. “When you look at Jack, the first thing you notice is his height, an asset that we believe will serve him well as a professional. He is a good passer who reads the game well. He has performed well in preseason and we look forward to working with him this season and beyond.”

“To go from playing in England, come through college and to make it here has been a dream come true so far, best I’ve felt in a long time,” said Elliott, the London, England native who played collegiately for the West Virginia University Mountaineers.

“It is terrific to see a player’s dream come to fruition and we are pleased to see Jack sign his first professional contract with a first-rate club like the Philadelphia Union,” said Robert Zito, Managing Partner of IPZ, which represents Elliott. “We are thrilled for Jack as he officially begins his professional career.”  

Read the Union’s official release about Elliott’s signing here.

About IPZ: InterperformancesUSA (IPZ) is a family-focused management, representation, and consulting firm, built on the integrity of its professionals, and developing whole life solutions for its clients. The firm is an alliance with Zito Partners. For more information, visit www.ipzusa.com.

About Zito Partners: Zito Partners builds, energizes and defends brands. A boutique firm representing a select group of clients from a range of industries, Zito Partners believes in a “ready, aim, fire” approach – understand the client…develop the appropriate strategy against the key target constituencies…and execute against the plan. And through its strategic alliance with Ketchum, Ketchum Zito Financial, Zito Partners is assisting additional clients with their financial communications needs.  For more information, visit www.zitopartners.com.

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Media Contact:

Kyrsten Van Natta
(862) 205-9841
kyrsten@ipzusa.com

JACK ELLIOTT CHOOSES IPZ

Philadelphia Union Draftee is Newest Addition to InterperformancesUSA

WARREN, NJ, January 23, 2017 – Jack Elliott, the Philadelphia Union’s fourth pick in the 2017 MLS draft, has signed with InterperformancesUSA (IPZ), the company announced today.

The London, England, native towers over his competition standing at 6-foot-5. Elliott was a center back and defensive midfielder for West Virginia University and he missed just one match in his four years with the Mountaineers. During his senior year, Elliott led a WVU defense that posted eight shutouts, and he was named to the All-Great Lakes Region First Team by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), as well as the All-MAC (Mid-American Conference) Second Team.

In addition to his on-the-field success,  Elliott excelled in the classroom posting a 3.96 grade-point-average which landed him three Academic All-American honors. He was the first WVU men’s soccer player to achieve this feat.

Elliott expressed his gratitude to all who have helped to make this possible, “Thank you to the Philadelphia Union for giving me this opportunity,” Elliott said after the draft. “It’s something that I have been working toward for a long time and will continue working at. A great thanks to everyone that has supported me throughout the years.”

“Jack is a physically imposing defender who has the ability to initiate a team’s attack with his great vision and quality distribution,” said Robert Zito, Managing Director of IPZ. “He embraces one-on-one defensive battles, is technically gifted with both feet, and is an extremely intelligent individual both on and off the field. Jack has been a pleasure to work with since our initial contact and we are thrilled to have him officially join the IPZ family.”

Watch Elliott’s highlights from 2015-2016 here.

About IPZ: InterperformancesUSA (IPZ) is a family-focused management, representation, and consulting firm, built on the integrity of its professionals, and developing whole life solutions for its clients. The firm is an alliance with Zito Partners. For more information, visit www.ipzusa.com.

About Zito Partners: Zito Partners builds, energizes and defends brands. A boutique firm representing a select group of clients from a range of industries, Zito Partners believes in a “ready, aim, fire” approach – understand the client…develop the appropriate strategy against the key target constituencies…and execute against the plan. And through its strategic alliance with Ketchum, Ketchum Zito Financial, Zito Partners is assisting additional clients with their financial communications needs.  For more information, visit www.zitopartners.com.


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Media Contact:

Kyrsten Van Natta
(862) 205-9841
kyrsten@ipzusa.com