Union drop preseason match to Red Bulls

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Union drop preseason match to Red Bulls

Jack McInerney scored in his second straight preseason game but it wasn’t enough for the Philadelphia Union, who dropped a 2-1 decision to the New York Red Bulls at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field on Wednesday night.

Lloyd Sam had a goal and an assist for the Red Bulls, putting New York ahead early in the first half after beating Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath on a counter-attack. Later in the first half, Sam set up star striker Thierry Henry with the game-winner.

The score remained 2-1 throughout the second half as both teams made wholesale lineup changes at the halftime break.

“We were just focused on our own preparations,” Union manager John Hackworth told Jacksonville reporters after the game. “It was good to play an opponent like Red Bull that really tests the things you’re trying to work on. But the whole goal for us tonight was to try to implement the things we’ve been working on throughout the preseason.”

One of the things the Union are trying to implement this preseason is a 4-3-3 formation centered around a trio of new midfield acquisitions: Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira.

All three players got the start Wednesday, along with captain Brian Carroll in a holding midfield role, Danny Cruz wide to the right and McInerney up top.

Nogueira just arrived to Union camp on Sunday but made his presence felt immediately with a a couple of nifty moves. He also got the assist on McInerney’s goal with a tap on an indirect free kick in the box. McInerney, who scored in the Union’s 1-1 draw with New England last Tuesday, then hit a rocket into the back of the net.

“Vincent, I think he showed his qualities in there,” Hackworth said. “Maidana did the same thing. It’s going to take a little bit of time, a little bit of work to get those guys on the same page and syncing the way we would like. But so far, so good.”

Rookie center back Richard Marquez, out of Division III Redlands, got a surprise start on the backline, along with Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams and Fabinho.

Rookies Andre Blake, Robbie Derschang, Aodhan Quinn and Pedro Ribeiro all came on in the second half. Blake, the top overall pick in the 2014 draft, made a couple of big saves and Ribeiro made perhaps the play of the game when he made a run down the middle of the field with the Red Bulls’ Eric Alexander practically hanging on to him.

“He took him for a ride,” Hackworth said.

Ethan White, Aaron Wheeler, Ray Gaddis, Leo Fernandes, Keon Daniel, Corben Bone and Sebastien Le Toux also came on to start the second half for Philly.

Weather permitting, the Union will now return to Philadelphia for a few days before going back to Florida next week for the final phase of their preseason. Their next exhibition game is against Orlando City on Wednesday at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.

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.