Union to honor Soumare trade request

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Union to honor Soumare trade request

CHESTER, Pa. -- Bakary Soumare has had enough of the bench and his time with the Union.

Following the Union’s loss to Sporting Kansas City on March 2, and with his failure to crack the opening day lineup, Soumare immediately requested a trade, according to Union coach John Hackworth on Wednesday.

The Union have agreed to honor his wishes.

“After the game against Sporting KC, Baky came to [Union CEO and Operator Partner] Nick Sakiewicz and then to myself asking to be traded because he is not happy not being a starter,” Hackworth said. “He felt like he was in the prime of his career and that’s what he came here to do. Absolutely respect that and I understand where he’s coming from.

“As of now, Baky is a Philadelphia Union player but I can’t tell you how this is going to go. I’m hopeful we can find a resolution for both us and him. There’s a reason we brought him here and reason he’s still here.”

Acquired as the cornerstone of the Union back line in January, 2012, Soumare, 27, suffered a mix of injury and roster competition, limiting him to just one start in his first year with the Union. With optimism that he would be the Union’s go-to center back in 2013, the 6-foot-4 defender was once again left out of Hackworth’s plans, which favored Amobi Okugo at that position.

“That’s the core thing I want to get across -- the reason Baky’s situation changed from when he arrived to now is that Amobi Okugo has been a revelation,” Hackworth said. “We put him at center back, he was really good last year and continued that. Our recent results (2-1-0) are evidence of that continuing. When you have players playing that well you have tough decisions. Baky or Amobi at center back is the toughest one.”

An interesting caveat of the Soumare situation is that Hackworth did intend to give the Mali national selective starts, in particular a shot against the Colorado Rapids in the Union’s second game. However, asking for a trade one week prior, Soumare made it clear he wasn’t interested in sharing time on the field.

“It changes the coach’s mindset when you have a player who says he’s not happy and wants to be somewhere else,” Hackworth said. “It has a major effect. Baky is a good pro, so we’ve been very honest and up front with each through the whole process. I told him we would be looking to play him against Colorado and asked him it would change anything for him. He said no. He wanted to see if there were any opportunities out there for him. That’s why Baky was on the bench against Colorado.”

Asked what he expects in return for Soumare, Hackworth was unsure.

“We need to make sure we make a good decision for the Philadelphia Union,” the coach said. “I can’t tell you if it would be for money or a trade for a player. We weigh those options and have for the last two weeks. This has been going on.”

Without Soumare in reserve, the Union appear short at center mid. And although the team has admitted to contemplating a depth move, Hackworth says he feels fine with his squad moving forward without Soumare in the mix.

“We have options that we are comfortable with,” Hackworth said. “It doesn’t mean we want to lose Baky but if he did leave, I’d feel comfortable that if something happened to Jeff [Parke] or Amobi, that we could deal with it properly.

“You have a veteran like Chris Albright, who has played as a center back, Sheanon Williams has also played there. We know what he’s capable of. We could move Ray Gaddis back to his natural right back and then we’d look at familiar options at left back. In our locker room already we feel like we have options.”

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.