Union looking to keep cool vs. rival DC United

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Union looking to keep cool vs. rival DC United

With seven yellow cards, one red and 35 combined fouls against Toronto FC last Saturday, the Union were frustrated by the physical play, angered by the refereeing and close to unraveling, before Jack McInerney tied the game in stoppage time.

Now set to face bitter rival DC United at RFK Stadium on Sunday in what will likely be a another volatile contest, coach John Hackworth is asking his veterans for more on-field leadership.

“There were a couple incidents against Toronto where I would have preferred some better leadership out there,” Hackworth said. “Not better, because I don’t want to criticize [captain] Brian [Carroll] or anyone else, but I think there was a place for guys to say, ‘Hey, look. This is clearly what’s happening in this game, let’s settle down. Let's not worry about all this BS going on.’ We can’t control the officials and we can’t control the antics, it’s not our problem, so let's focus on us. We talked about it already and every guy in that locker room feels the same way.”

Since the Union joined the MLS in 2010, their battles with DC United have been extra physical and rife with fouls and bad blood. In 2012 alone, the Union and the United racked up 16 yellow cards and five red cards in just four US Open Cup and MLS regular-season games.

“I think just from the cities,” Union right back Sheanon Williams said. “Philly doesn’t like Washington and Washington doesn’t like Philly. I think we can sense that between the fans. And obviously them being an Eastern Conference team, that makes them a foe. I don’t know what makes it so much bad blood but there’s definitely something there. It just gets heated sometimes. Hopefully there won’t be any red cards or anything like that. We want to play a good game. We want to do what we like to do. That doesn’t include red cards and stupid fouls.”

The rivalry has been so heated, that even during preseason exhibition games the two clubs bumped heads. On Feb. 23 in Orlando, DC United’s Dwayne De Rosario got into an altercation with Danny Cruz, which saw De Rosario shown a straight red card and ejection.

“It happened again in preseason when we played them and we got a couple of red cards and a couple of other things,” Williams said. “It’s just a heated game any time we play them. Obviously, both teams want to win. And with the position both teams are in, these points are going to be pretty big.”

With DC United holding a 1-4-1 record and the Union sitting at 2-2-2, both clubs enter Sunday with a much-needed win on their mind. The contest is so vital to the Union’s Eastern Conference success, that both Union players and coaches want to avoid an emotional foul-fest on the road.

“It’s definitely tough,” Williams said on suppressing the high emotion. “You get some blood rushing to your head and you want to do something that maybe you wouldn’t do normally. You just have to think about how that will effect your team, and if it’s going to be in a negative way then you try to hold back and restrain yourself. You go out there to help the team, not to hurt them. So anything you do you’re going to be held responsible for in the long run. You have to keep your cool and do what you need to do.”

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.