August 19, 2016
Ken Tribbett was a trialist when he showed up on Day One of the Philadelphia Union preseason.
Eight months later, he's starting on a team that sits above the playoff line with just ten games to play.
The progress of the former Drexel standout was one of the feel-good stories of the spring. His battle with Josh Yaro for the starting right center back job has been equally compelling.
Coming off a recent stretch of less than desirable results, and with calls for Yaro to start, Tribbett may have played his best professional game in the four-nil win at New England.
After the Union shipped 11 goals in the prior four games, Tribbett called this one a "complete team performance" and said that not much changed with the defensive gameplan and philosophy.
"We had a couple of breaks go our way, where in the past two games, they didn't go our way," Tribbett told PhillyVoice this week. "But I think there was a lot of communication between myself, Keegan, Richie, Fabinho, and Andre. It was the communication that really helped us with the shutout."
Individually, Tribbett went one for two on tackles and posted three blocks inside his penalty area. He added one interception to his three recoveries and ten clearances. New England only put four of 15 shots on goal and veteran center forward Kei Kamara was held mostly in check.
"It was better," said Tribbett of his performance. "Anytime you keep a shutout, you look back at what you did and say, 'okay, that was better than what I did in the past'. Anytime you concede a goal, you always look back and think about what you could have done better. But this time, it was pretty solid."
Ken Tribbett and Richie Marquez looks like your first D pairing again. Yaro working with Trusty and Anderson— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) August 17, 2016
It hasn't always been clean for Tribbett, and mistakes began to pop up in recent weeks. In the 2-2 draw against New York, he dribbled into a trap and lost the ball, leading to a Sacha Kljestan tap-in. The road game in D.C. featured a turnover and a missed tackle that allowed left back Taylor Kemp to score from a rather long way out.
Credit then to the Tribbett for playing an error-free game in Foxborough.
"You're supposed to have a short-term memory, so I try not to relive those moments," said Tribbett. "You're supposed to be confident and just try to make those passes. I'm a player who likes to play through lines, as opposed to just kicking it over the top. So it definitely goes against my game if I start to be concerned and just start lumping it over."
Head coach Jim Curtin alternated between Yaro and Tribbett over the first twenty games. The starts and the minutes were split almost in half with neither rookie appearing to separate himself from the other.
That battle appears to be waning since Tribbett has started six of the last seven games in all competitions.
Curtin told reporters last week that he was looking for either Yaro or Tribbett to "grab ahold" of the starting spot and run with it.
"He hasn't personally talked to me about it, but that's my philosophy," Tribbett added. "That should be every athlete's philosophy if they want to start, if they want to play, and if they want to be the best they can be. For me, (you have to) keep that mentality through training and games, just to be the best I can be and help the team win."
This week will provide a much different test for Tribbett, who faces Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco for the first time in his pro career. Giovinco is the reigning MLS MVP and currently leads the league with 15 goals.
While the Union did well matching Kamara's size and strength, they'll have to prepare for a smaller, shiftier, and much more dynamic attacker this weekend.
"I mean, it's tough (laughing)," said Tribbett of facing Giovinco. "There are always some little things you can do here and there. He's very quick and he's technical, so we're going to try to get multiple guys around him just to try to stifle him as best as we can. It's certainly a different mentality you have going into the game. As opposed to being a battle physically, this time, it's going to be more of a mental battle. You've got to be in the right spots, quicker. You have to watch what he's doing with his feet, as opposed to using brute strength."