Humbled Union wary of vengeful Fire

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Humbled Union wary of vengeful Fire

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union enter Saturday’s contest as a humbled team.

Coming off a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the LA Galaxy on Wednesday, the Union are licking their wounds as they set to face the Chicago Fire at PPL Park. And despite grinding out a win over the Fire in Chicago just a week prior, the loss to the Galaxy was an eye-opening defeat.

“It was a good wake-up call,” said Union defender Amobi Okugo, who scored his team’s only goal on Wednesday. “We have to go back to the drawing board, watch a lot of film. Chicago was probably watching, so we know we’ll have to step it up. We only have one win [at PPL Park], so we definitely have to step it up.”

Though the Union defeated the Fire, 1-0,  at Toyota Park last Saturday, thanks to a late Jack McInerney goal, they aren’t taking their familiar opponent for granted. The Union are in the final leg of a three-game, eight-day set, while the Fire have been stewing since the loss.

“It’s tough playing a team back-to-back,” Fire forward Patrick Nyarko told Chicago-Fire.com. “Whatever success you had in the first game might be difficult to replicate because the game plan is so fresh in your mind.”

“You have to take it one game at a time,” Fire defender Austin Berry said. “We’re going to watch film and learn from last week. It’s in the past, so we’ll look forward to Saturday and putting our best effort out there.”

With revenge as motivation, the 4-4-3 Union are expecting more from the 2-6-1 Fire than they showed in the first meeting. Union goalie Zac MacMath was the star of that game, earning the six-save shutout.

“Coming back at home against Chicago, they are going to try and redeem themselves after losing to us at their place,” Union forward Sebastien Le Toux said. “It won’t be an easy game. We have to come back strong, especially after [playing the Galaxy]. We don’t like losing these games, especially at home.”

But while the Fire work to solve the Union, coach John Hackworth’s club won’t look the same. Missing defensive cornerstone Jeff Parke to a hamstring injury and Sheanon Williams to a red-card suspension last Saturday, the Union were forced to play Bakary Soumare at center back and Gabe Farfan at left back. Since then, Farfan has been traded to Chivas USA and Parke has fully recovered from his injury.

Another new addition could be attacking midfielder Kleberson, who played his first full 90 minutes for the Union against the Galaxy. Flashing incredible quality and creating offensive chances for the Union forwards, the Brazilian may have earned himself a starting spot against the Fire.

“It will be a completely different game,” Williams said. “Both teams will change their tactics and play a lot differently. Being at home, we want to be on the front foot.”

Whatever lineup Hackworth puts on the field, the Union need it to result in points. And though it’s still early in the 2013 season, the Union players want to weather the storm and stay in the playoff picture.

“They are going to come here trying to get a win,” Okugo said of the Fire. “We stole three points there last week. We’ll need a quick [regeneration] and play better than we did [against the Galaxy]. This is a tough stretch and we’re trying to stay in playoff contention.”

Open Cup schedule
The 2013 US Open Cup schedule has been finalized.

In the MLS-entry round (third round) of the long-running tournament, the Union will face either the PDL’s Ocean City Nor’easters or USL PRO’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Tuesday, May 28.

The two minor league clubs will battle it out on Tuesday, May 21, with the winner earning a date with the Union. If the Riverhounds win, the Union will travel to Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pa. If the Nor’easters advance, the game will be at PPL Park.

Although the 2012 season was one to forget for the Union, who struggled through their MLS schedule, one positive aspect was the club’s success in the Open Cup.

Taking down DC United and Harrisburg City Islanders before losing to the eventual tournament champion Sporting Kansas City in the semifinals, the Union went 3-1 and grabbed a handful of success in a season of overwhelming failure.

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

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USA Today Images

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.

Union's 2017 schedule released, includes early challenges

Union's 2017 schedule released, includes early challenges

The Union’s 2017 MLS regular season schedule has been released. 

Like 2016, the start to the Union’s new campaign will be a test. After opening their season at BC Place against the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 5, the Union head home to Talen Energy Stadium on March 11 to host defending Eastern Conference champion Toronto FC in the home opener.

It’s the Union's only home game in their first four matches.

But that’s not the only concern. Following that difficult start, the Union face a five-game gauntlet between April 8 through May 6. Despite hosting four of those five games, the run begins against the Portland Timbers and ends with the New York Red Bulls. In between, the Union take on 2016 playoff sides New York City FC, Montreal Impact and challenge the LA Galaxy on the road.

That difficult stretch is potentially outdone only by a deep summer three-game road swing from July 6-22, in which the Union will visit Sporting Kansas City, the Impact and Columbus Crew.

When it comes to rivalries, the Union visit DC United twice — on April 1 and May 13 — but host the Red Bulls twice, on May 6 and June 18. The Union take on NYCFC only twice in 2017.

On the expansion front, the Union’s first match against a new MLS side happens on Aug. 26, when Atlanta United comes to town. One week later, the Union travel to TCF Bank Stadium to take on Minnesota United, and eventually make the trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to visit Atlanta on Sept. 26.

The Union will get to test themselves against the reigning MLS Cup champs, as the Seattle Sounders come to Talen Energy Stadium on Oct. 1. The match will be one of four on ESPN, with one match on FS1.