Inside Doop: Tough week ahead for Union

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Inside Doop: Tough week ahead for Union

CHESTER, Pa. – This one did not sit well with the Philadelphia Union.

Moments away from just the franchise’s second three-game winning streak, the Union allowed a controversial goal very late in stoppage time and settled for a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas on Saturday at PPL Park.

There’s a lot to discuss about this one, so let’s get right into it with this week’s “Inside Doop.”

Three thoughts from Saturday’s game
1.
The Union were upset about Blas Perez’s game-tying goal for two reasons: they thought time should have already expired and they thought Union goalie Zac MacMath was fouled on the play. Both points are certainly valid. But as many Union fans have pointed out, all of that could have been avoided if the Union didn’t commit a dumb foul against 10-man Dallas and if MacMath opted to punch away the free kick that preceded the goal rather than try to catch it. And it also must be mentioned that the Union caught a break just minutes earlier when Sheanon Williams cleared a ball off the goal line because replays later showed the ball had clearly crossed the line. All in all, the result was probably a fair one, if still a disappointing one, for Philly.

2. Raise your hand if you thought Sheanon Williams would be one of the league leaders in assists at this point in the season. After assisting both of Philly’s goals on Saturday, the right back now has six on the season, just one behind league leader and right-side-of-the-field teammate Sebastien Le Toux. Remarkably, four of those assists have come on throw-ins, the most recent coming on an Amobi Okugo goal that opened the scoring in Saturday’s contest. But while we already knew how dangerous his throws can be, it seems his crosses have been much sharper than in previous years too. Case in point: his cross on the go-ahead goal Saturday was sublime.

3. Waiting in the box for Williams’ perfect cross in the 87th minute was an unlikely source: deep reserve Aaron Wheeler. But in what was just his second MLS appearance, the tall striker delivered an equally perfect header to put the Union ahead 2-1. Afterwards, Williams and Wheeler both spoke of a good connection they’ve shared in practice, one that they were glad to see extend to a big nationally televised game. And even though the goal proved not to be a game-winner in the end, it should still show Union fans that the team might be in decent shape at striker while Jack McInerney plays with the U.S. national team through most of July.

Three questions for the week ahead
1.
The Union have their toughest road trip of the season this week as they take on Real Salt Lake on Wednesday and then the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. Real Salt Lake currently sits in first place in the Western Conference, while Houston is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Philly. What will the Union look to achieve during this road trip? Ideally, they’ll hope to win both games, of course. But realistically, they should be happy with one win or two draws.

2. The biggest question heading into Wednesday’s game is who replaces McInerney, who left for Gold Cup duty today. The easiest solution would probably be to simply swap in Antoine Hoppenot for McInerney and let Aaron Wheeler assume Hoppenot’s role as the team’s super sub. But because Hoppenot has so much value coming off the bench, Union manager John Hackworth may also opt to move Sebastien Le Toux from right midfield to striker, a position he’s quite familiar with. The problem there is that leaves the Union thin at midfield.

3. Why are the Union so thin in the midfield? On top of the absence of Keon Daniel, who’s playing in the Gold Cup for Trinidad and Tobago, Kleberson has missed three straight games with a quad strain and Michael Lahoud continues to recover from a sports hernia. If one of those players can return this week, the Union will be in much better shape to survive the tough stretch.

Stat of the week
The Union did not lose a league game in June, going 2-0-2 in the month. The only other month that happened was in March of 2011 – when the Union only played twice.

Quote of the week
“I think the game should have been over well over the allotted time that was shown on the clock. But you have to play until the final whistle and we didn’t do that.” – John Hackworth, on Dallas’ game-tying goal Saturday

Player of the week
Sheanon Williams was asked in the locker room Saturday if this was the best game of his career. While that might be a stretch, he was certainly the team’s most productive player this week, thanks to his pair of assists and dramatic goal-line clearance.

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.