Union drop friendly on Ethan White own-goal

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Union drop friendly on Ethan White own-goal

CHESTER, Pa. -- Ethan White had better nights.

Scoring an own-goal in the 20th minute, the Union defender helped English Premier League's Crystal Palace defeat the disjointed hosts, 1-0, in a friendly Friday night at PPL Park.

“It’s part of being a defender,” White said. “Our mistakes are magnified. I have to move onto the next game.”

The exhibition loss was the Union’s fourth at PPL Park against English Premier League teams. They are 1-4 overall against clubs from England with their only win coming over Everton in 2011.

“It’s funny how everyone wants to talk about how athletic MLS is,” interim Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Everyone is big, fast and strong. You look out there and as it kicks off, they’re a lot bigger, a lot faster and a lot stronger in a lot of ways. It was a good exercise for our guys.”

In less than dramatic fashion, Crystal Palace got the game-winner when White tried to defend away a ball that was lofted softly into the box. The attempted header floated back toward the goal, over goalie Andre Blake and in.

“I went up to contest it, just to body [Crystal Palace forward Marouane] Chamakh,” White said. “The ball nicked off my head and over Andre .

“It was errant.”

It would be the difference in a largely uneventful contest.

“It’s a tough one,” Blake said. “I wanted to go get it but it hung in the air by the breeze. I got caught. It was a bad touch. It was unlucky.”

With the Union on their heels, the visitors nearly doubled their advantage just minutes later. But despite strong in-box tries from Yannick Bolasie and company, they couldn’t beat Blake, who came up with three consecutive top-notch saves to keep the Union afloat at the half, down 1-0.

"[Crystal Palace] probably should have been up two or three," he said. "I thought Andre Blake bailed us out a bit. Made some big saves." 

Blake finished the half with five saves and ended the contest with six. He has yet to start an MLS game this season.

“Every time I get an opportunity to showcase what I can do,” Blake said, “I go out there and do my best to help my team.”

To start the second half, the Union subbed in Amobi Okugo and Brian Carroll for Vincent Nogueria and Maurice Edu in the midfield and Pedro Riberio for Ethan White on defense. Aaron Wheeler and Sebastien Le Toux joined the match for Danny Cruz and Andrew Wenger.

The Union received their best chance of the match in the 81st minute, as Corben Bone pushed forward a pass to Le Toux down the right side. On a sudden odd-man rush, Le Toux gained the right point of the crease before firing a cross toward streaking Antoine Hoppenot, who couldn’t get his foot on it.

“We created chances in the second half and pushed the game a bit,” Curtin said. “We never really made them uncomfortable. I would have liked to have made them more uncomfortable in the night, but good effort. I think we learned a lot about our group.” 

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.