Depth scoring helps Union take down Crew

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Depth scoring helps Union take down Crew

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- In a span of six minutes, the Union routed the Columbus Crew.

Despite not getting any production from leading scorer Jack McInerney, the Union received first-half goals from Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams and Conor Casey to take down the Crew, 3-0, on Wednesday night at PPL Park.

“We were due one of these games,” said Union coach John Hackworth, whose club is coming off a tough draw to Toronto FC. “We felt like it would happen sooner or later. We’re glad it happened in a game as important as this one.”

The win gives the Union some space in the Eastern Conference standings. At 6-5-4, they are now in a three-way tie for third place with 22 points, while the Crew remain outside of the playoff picture with 17 points.

“For us to be able to put on that kind of performance and get the three points, get the separation from Columbus,” Hackworth said,” it was important for us.”

After trading minor chances with the Crew for the opening 25 minutes, Carroll broke the contest open with a headstrong play at the top of the box. Jumping into space to take control of a loose ball, Carroll gained possession and fired off a low shot that deflected off of Crew defender Eric Gehrig and trickled slowly inside the right post for the 1-0 Union lead.

“I was happy to get us off on the right foot and happy we were the first ones to score,” Carroll said. “Deflection or not, I’ll take it.

“It was open. I just wanted to put something on target and see what happens. It found its way in.”

Carroll and the Union were just getting started.

Four minutes later, on a corner kick, the Union’s leading assist man Sebastien Le Toux drilled a ball into the box that was flicked to the far post by Carroll. Beating his man to the cross, a streaking Williams got a head on the ball for the 2-0 Union advantage.

“It was a great flick from B.C. and I did whatever I could to put it on target,” Williams said.

Feeling left out of the scoring, Casey got in on the action.

Off a fast break in the 31st minute, Le Toux, from the right side of the Crew box, centered a low cross that was easily headed in by Casey at the top of the crease. The veteran scorer didn’t miss, making it 3-0 Union at the half.

“I can’t tell you how nice it was to be in the last 15 minutes of that game and not have it be a drama show,” Hackworth said. “It felt like -- finally, we deserve this. We’ve been working so hard, it was nice and well deserved.”

With two assists, Le Toux took the MLS lead with six.

“The ball he played into Conor was a fantastic ball,” Hackworth said. “He always does so much work. I’ve said he was going to be so important to our club, we knew he had to be for us to be successful. He’s a guy who brings it in this building.”

Minus striker Jairo Arrieta to international duty, Eddie Gaven and defensive rock Chad Marshall to injury, the Crew were unable to muster much momentum or stop the Union’s attack. They managed seven attempts on net in the first half with only two on goal.

“This one was the kind of game we needed,” Hackworth said. “There were so many questions being asked of us -- from consistency to if we’re fit. I think we answered a lot of those questions tonight. It’s nice for the guys because they deserved it. It was a well-rounded performance from everybody. I told the players at halftime, this was the best team defense we played. Everybody did their job and did it well.”

Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath recorded his fourth shutout of the season and finished with four saves.

“Everything was important,” Williams said. “We’ve been going through a tough stretch, not playing the kind of soccer we know we can play. Tonight was a good example that when we put it all together, that’s what we can do. There are a lot of positives to take out of this.”

In the waning moments of the contest, McInerney nearly added to his MLS-leading goal total of 10 when he found space in the right side of the box and plenty of time to shoot. Taking the right-footed shot, McInerney beat the goalkeeper but missed the net wide. It was the closest he would come.

“I would have bet the house that Jack would have scored at the end,” Williams said.

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.