Kleberson wants to make championship impact with Union

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Kleberson wants to make championship impact with Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- Days after being introduced to his new team, new city and league, Brazilian midfielder Jose Kleberson made his first public Union debut on Wednesday night at na’Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse in Horsham, Pa.

Even though Union rookie Leo Fernandes had to translate the Brazilian’s words, Kleberson made his expectations clear.

“Not only am I going to bring my experience, but I will bring that Brazilian football to help the Philadelphia Union,” said Kleberson, who was loaned by Brazilian club Bahia for Freddy Adu. “I want to be very successful with my teammates and I want to win an MLS Cup and make the Philadelphia Union into champions.”

Although the 33-year-old has been with the Union for only a handful of training sessions, Union coach John Hackworth was almost giddy with excitement over his new midfielder.

“We’ve had him in training and it’s been good to have him,” said the coach, whose club is 2-2-0 this season. “His quality is evident the minute he steps on the field. He is still in the process of adapting to our team, coaching style, teammates and cold weather in Philadelphia. I don’t think that will change too fast. So far, so good.

“It’s great to have him. I'm really excited to have the kind of quality he has and experience and a player, a man who has won so many trophies in his career, the value he brings is immeasurable.”

Similar to how Adu was banished from the Union for his expensive contract and limited production, Kleberson was pushed out of Brazil. But that doesn’t mean the former Manchester United player is soured by the move.

“I’ve heard a lot about MLS through the years ever since [David] Beckham arrived,” said Kleberson, who was a major player in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup run. “I’m very interested in the league. I’ve always wanted to play here. The soccer is growing a lot and it’s changing a lot, and that’s what interested me the most. With my career and what I have done over the years, it is a good thing to come here. When Philadelphia first contacted me, I was very happy and I had only one thing on my mind, to come over here.”

The Union front office was also thrilled to not only have a good designated player -- but one that isn’t playing toward opportunity elsewhere in the world.

“I can tell you this man wants to be here,” Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz said. “And it’s really gratifying to me to see an international player that respects Major League Soccer, that respects the way we play and has a high regard for the league. So I’m really delighted to welcome Jose.”

With a struggling midfield, Hackworth is eager to get Kleberson’s talents on the field. Bad enough, that despite Kleberson just joining the team, Hackworth hasn’t ruled him out for Saturday’s road match against Columbus Crew.

“He’s a guy we’re talking about a lot right now,” Hackworth said. “He has to be the right choice to give us the best chance to be successful in Columbus. The following point is that we feel like our midfield needs to do a better job with the ball and needs to be better in possession. I don’t think that’s a secret at all. He is certainly a guy who has a really good tactical sense and sense of where he can find the ball, his touches are exceptional. If we feel he’s the best choice for us, he’s available for selection on Saturday.”

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.