Daniel's return gives Union a roster boost

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Daniel's return gives Union a roster boost

CHESTER, Pa. -- Arriving back in Philadelphia on Monday following a CONCACAF Gold Cup stint with Trinidad and Tobago, Keon Daniel has rejoined the Union.

And Union coach John Hackworth couldn’t be happier.

“I think it’s great to have Keon back,” said Hackworth, whose club travels to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps on Saturday. “He’s one of the best possession players we have. He’s skillful and his feet are excellent. He has such a calm demeanor about him, nothing rattles him. To be composed on the field under pressure, that’s important, especially going to Vancouver. It’s good to have him back, we’re going to find a way to integrate him into the team. He’s looked really good this week.”

Daniel, the Union’s starting, attacking center midfielder, returns from a successful run with his national team, which impressively made it to the tournament quarterfinals after going 1-1-1 and advancing through Group B.

“Before we started the tournament, we came together as a team and said if we made it to the quarterfinals, it would be a great achievement,” Daniel said. “We haven’t been in major tournaments for awhile and football has been down in our country. Showing we could, that should put things back on the right track.”

During Daniel’s absence, the Union went 1-1-3 and cycled a combination of Leo Fernandes and Michael Farfan at the center-mid position. Though Daniel could have helped solidify that area, all he could do was follow along from afar.

“That’s my team, for sure,” Daniel said. “I have an MLS app, so I sat up at night and though I watched some of the games, I got all the updates. What else could I do, that’s my team. I kept supporting the boys.”

Yet, it’s still unknown whether Daniel will help support his boys on the field against the Whitecaps. With Fernandes and Farfan pushing for the job, along with a healthy Kleberson now in the mix, Daniel isn’t a guarantee to start on Saturday.

“Whatever the coach decides, I’m fine with it,” Daniel said. “I’ll just keep working hard. If he puts me in to play, I’ll be the same player I was before I left. If he says I sit, I’ll sit.”

Fabinho gives Union options
When the Union acquired Fabinho on June 28, not much was expected of the Brazilian left back. But after an assist in his debut against Chivas USA and a strong 11 minutes last Saturday, the Union may have found the left wing bench threat they have been looking for.

“Him playing at left mid has given us a boost, and he’s done well,” Hackworth said. “We feel a lot more comfortable putting him in an attacking position. But he’s a true left back, so we have cover in the back if need be. He’s a versatile player in that whether he’s off the bench or in the starting lineup, he gives us the ability to make a couple moves with one player.”

Even the Union players are taking notice.  

“He’s an attacking fullback by trade, so when he moves higher up the field he doesn’t have to focus on defensive responsibilities as much,” Union defender Amobi Okugo said. “It’s good to see him make a difference.”

Union draft Chris Nanco, Jack Elliott in third and fourth rounds

Union draft Chris Nanco, Jack Elliott in third and fourth rounds

With an eye on potential, the Union selected two forwards and a defender as they wrapped up the third and fourth rounds of the 2017 MLS draft on Tuesday.

With the 55th overall selection, the Union grabbed Chris Nanco, a Canadian-born forward out of Syracuse. The 5-foot-6 speedster, who led his club with 15 points over his senior season, was listed as a second-round talent on some draft boards.

Moving into the fourth and final round, the Union selected West Virginia defender Jack Elliott with the 77th overall pick. Opposite of the diminutive Nanco, Elliott, out of London, stands at a hulking 6-foot-5. Also listed as a defensive midfielder, Elliott showed a twinge of offense and started all 16 games for the Mountaineers in his senior season, playing a part in eight shutouts over that span.

Back in 2015, the Union moved defender Ethan White to New York City FC for the 82nd overall pick in 2017. That trade finalized on Tuesday when the Union selected productive Spanish forward Santi Moar out of Pfeiffer University. Moar scored 14 goals and 19 assists in 20 games with Pfeiffer as a sophomore in 2016.

Although these picks aren’t guaranteed to be with the club by the end of training camp, the Union will heavily utilize USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel to assist in the development of prospects who do make it.

Without a first-round pick, the Union traded up to select Marcus Epps, an attacking midfielder in the early second round. They also added depth at right back Aaron Jones with the 33rd overall pick.

Union trade up in 2nd round to draft Marcus Epps, also add Aaron Jones

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Union trade up in 2nd round to draft Marcus Epps, also add Aaron Jones

With no first-round picks in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft on Friday in Los Angeles, the Union were still able to add what they were looking for. 

“We got two players today that we want to be with the Philadelphia Union for a long time,” Union manager Jim Curtin said.

The club made a splash early in the second round by trading the 42nd overall pick, originally acquired by the Union, sending Zac MacMath to the Colorado Rapids, and $50,000 in 2018 General Allocation Money to the Minnesota United for the 25th overall pick. 

With that selection, the Union plucked Marcus Epps, an athletic right wing midfielder out of the University of South Florida. 

“We didn’t want to wait any longer,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “We were afraid Marc would go sooner, so we made sure we were ready to do a deal and creep up the board so we could get him.”

Epps admitted he didn’t know much about the Union. He wasn’t in attendance at the draft but was thrilled at hearing his name called over the MLS live stream.

“I’ve been on the phone with family and friends,” he said. “I was huddled around the laptop, streaming in and hoping to hear the good news. 

“I was definitely surprised and excited.”

Epps, listed by MLS at 5-foot-10, is 22 and a native of Jackson, Mississippi. According to both Stewart and Curtin, Epps is an adept one-on-one player and a skillful attacking winger that fits the Union’s style. He’s also right-footed and stated that he has experience on both the left and right wing in the midfield.

“He has speed, he has agility, he’s a big boy,” Stewart said. “The combination of those factors and the philosophy that we have at the Philadelphia Union, we believe we can develop this kid to be something very special. If you have the ability that he has on the ball and the speed that he has, that can create a lot of chaos in the opponent’s half. That’s something we look forward to developing in Marcus.” 

However, while Epps’ numbers at USF aren’t eye-popping, Stewart isn’t worried. The young player spent most of his senior season with an iliotibial band injury but scored eight goals and nine assists in 75 games over four seasons with USF. 

“We bring players in to develop them,” Stewart said. “If they had all the numbers in college or youth teams, they would have gone one or two. He has certain qualities that not every player has. Keegan Rosenberry (current Union right back) didn’t have the numbers other people had at the same time. I think we made a good choice with Keegan.” 

Even with their move up in the second round, the Union still possessed their original second-round pick — the 33rd overall selection. There, they added depth by drafting aggressive 5-foot-9 right back Aaron Jones out of Clemson. 

“I’m delighted to join the Union and excited at the direction that franchise is moving,” Jones said. “I’m extremely proud of what Keegan was able to do last year. It’s [what] I want to emulate in my career. I want to push him and try and play as many games as I can next year. Injuries happen in sports, so if the chance is given to me, I’m going to take it.”

Jones, who hails from Great Yarmouth in the U.K. and claims to be a set-piece specialist, transferred from Georgia State to Clemson for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Like Epps, Curtin, who noted Jones’ soccer IQ and tenacity, sees the right back fitting in nicely with the Union style.

“He really impressed us,” said Curtin, who noted that Jones will compete with Rosenberry and Ray Gaddis for playing time. “He’s a kid who will compete from Day 1. He wins his one-on-one battles defensively, he embraces the defensive part of the game and he’s a guy that wants to get better every day. He has a Union mentality and will be a guy our fans will be high on.

“He has an impressive skillset.”

The Union will take part in the third and fourth rounds of the 2017 draft on Jan. 17, in which the club owns the 55th, 77th and 82nd pick.