Union pass on defense, draft Anding and Okai

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Union pass on defense, draft Anding and Okai

With the 26th and 31st pick in 2013 MLS SuperDraft on Thursday afternoon in Indianapolis, the Union acquired attacking speed in winger Don Anding, familiarity with midfielder Stephen Okai and two extra 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft picks.

After trading away the fifth overall selection to the Vancouver Whitecaps for the right to sign defender Bakary Soumare in mid-2012, the Union kept active with transactions, moving the 29th selection to Real Salt Lake for the 31st pick, along with the 12th and 17th picks of the MLS Supplemental Draft, which takes place on Jan. 22.

With the 26th selection, the Union passed on a glaring need at left back and took a chance on Anding.

Considered a burning speedster, Anding, a 5-foot-11 New York native out of Northeastern University, was a stunning selection for the Union, who are are loaded at the forward position. With Jack McInerney, Sebastien Le Toux, Antoine Hoppenot and 2012 first-round draft selection Chandler Hoffman, Anding is an addition at a position of depth for coach John Hackworths club.

However, Andings speed does set him apart from the Unions current group of attackers. Known to stretch defenses, the 21-year-old could be used on the left wing as a second forward or even left back, as a counterattack specialist. He scored 14 goals in 21 games with Northeastern in 2012.

Athletically he is very gifted, but it was his character that won us over, Hackworth said. When you are looking for a guy to work in a couple of different positions, his personality and the fact that hell work hard, along with the natural tools and gifts that he has, he was a guy that we wanted and we feel fortunate to grab him.

As the draft played out and left backs such as Greg Cochrane, Jimmy Nealis, John Gallagher and Dylan Remick dropped like rocks down the board, the Union got opportunistic. Making a trade with Salt Lake, the Union acquired Okai, a Ghanaian-born standout and well-rounded midfielder from the University of Mobile in the NAIA.

Nealis, Cochrane and Remick were selected shortly after.

What makes Okai an interesting pick is his relationship with Union assistant coach Brendan Burke, who also works as the head coach for the Reading United of the USL PDL -- where Okai spent much of 2012. Its been speculated that with depth at midfield, the Union can afford to use midfielder turn centerback, Amobi Okugo, as a defender moving forward.

Stephen is probably one of the most ready players in this draft that can step onto an MLS team and play right away, Hackworth said. Hes experienced beyond his years and having a lot of personal knowledge of him it was hard to deny that he was going to be a guy that we werent looking at.

The 2014 MLS SuperDraft will take place in Philadelphia.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com.

'I've never seen that' - Rare violation works in Union's favor vs. Colorado

'I've never seen that' - Rare violation works in Union's favor vs. Colorado

CHESTER, Pa. -- The situation was growing dire for the Union.

With the game tied at one in the second half and facing a Colorado Rapids team that happily parked the defensive bus in order to grind out an ugly draw, the Union got a break when Rapids forward Caleb Calvert received a red-card ejection for entering the field illegally.

Five minutes later, the Union claimed the 2-1 lead and eventual victory (see game story).

“I’ve never seen that to be honest with you,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Where you reenter the field like a sneak attack from behind the goal. You knew something was wrong with it when you saw it, just the eyeball test. But the laws of the game, that’s a violation.”

How it all happened was unique. In the 69th minute, Calvert went down injured on the Union goal line and remained there, writhing in pain. Not buying his injury, referee Jose Carlos Rivero went over to the player, held a conversation and immediately threw up the yellow card for dissent.

“The second yellow and yellows in that quick succession,” Curtin said, “it was probably in the referee's mind that something verbal was said and he was upset.”

With a warning on his name and with a trainer now at his side, Calvert, who scored his first MLS goal in the 15th minute but was unavailable to the media after the match, got to his feet and left the playing field behind the Union goal. Confused as to whether he could or couldn’t reenter the match, the 20-year-old forward hesitated briefly before sneaking back onto the field.

“They told me they were trying to tell him to stay off the field,” Rapids left back Eric Miller said. “But how many people were here tonight? 20,000? 20,000 people and the referee was 60 yards away, it’s gonna be tough to hear him probably.”

Calvert was carded again, this time with Rivero showing red, ejecting the youngster from the game.

“You don’t just quickly send a guy off for two dumb things in a row,” Miller said. “I’m sure he thinks he made the right call.”

Rapids assistant coach and former Union striker Conor Casey was also ejected. Head coach Pablo Mastroeni didn't make himself available to the media after the game.

“It’s tough when a referee has such a massive impact on the outcome of the game,” Miller said.

But the Union feel like the game was decided even before Calvert's ejection. While it did change the contest and made taking the lead with a Haris Medunjanin free kick goal a bit easier, Union attacker Chris Pontius believes C.J. Sapong’s game-tying penalty kick minutes before the incident is what stole momentum.

“I think they were rattled when we got the first goal,” said Pontius, who said he’s never witnessed anything like what happened Saturday. “I don’t think they knew what to do. I think even if they had 11 men, we were still getting another goal.”

Union battle back to beat Rapids for club record 4th-straight win

Union battle back to beat Rapids for club record 4th-straight win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- With a second-half flurry and some help from referee Jose Carlos Rivero, Haris Medunjanin and the Union overcame a one-goal deficit to take down the Colorado Rapids, 2-1, Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

The victory pushes the Union's win streak to a club record four games.

“Confidence is a heck of a thing,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “If you could bottle it up and sell it, you could make a heck of a lot of money. You see a group now that previously when we gave up a goal, we might lay down. We might panic. I don’t think we handled it perfectly, but we did push the game in the second half.” 

Playing their third match in eight days, the now 4-4-4 Union weren’t at their best Saturday against a Rapids team who are sitting dead last in MLS at 2-1-8. 

“Not all wins are going to be pretty,” Union attacker Chris Pontius said. “The first half definitely wasn’t us at all, we weren’t connecting passes, we were a little late with everything and played right into their hands.”

But trailing for the first time in four matches after a Caleb Calvert fast-break goal in the 15th minute, the hosts persisted and began to climb back into the game in the second half.

“I want to speak about the first 45 minutes. It was not us. It was very bad,” Medunjanin said. “We need to know that we can’t play arrogant and think we can easily beat every team. If we don’t fight for every yard, we are nothing.” 

From the right side of Rapids territory, Ilsinho fired a cross into the box that was pounced on by Jay Simpson, who entered for Fafa Picault just three minutes earlier. The forward’s shot hit Kortne Ford, who fell and practically hugged the ball, earning the in-box handball call and penalty kick. 

“We spoke with each other at halftime and we knew we had to stick with each other,” Medunjanin said. “We knew if we scored the first goal, we were going to win this game.” 

C.J. Sapong lined up at the spot and launched a high shot that found that first goal to tie the game at one. It was Sapong’s eighth of the season.

“The guy clearly made a hand ball and we got the PK,” Sapong said. “I tried to keep it on goal and it went in. It gave us a little bit of life.”

Then things got crazy. 

Embellishing an injury in an attempt to waste time, Calvert received a yellow card for dissent and was forced off the field as the trainer was called out. A confused Calvert then reentered the game without permission and received a second yellow and red-card ejection. In protest, former Union striker Conor Casey, now an assistant coach with the Rapids, was ejected in the 70th minute.

“Nothing’s going our way right now,” Rapids’ Eric Miller said. “So I think we’re pretty used to calls like that.”

Up a man, the Union rolled. Alejandro Bedoya suffered a foul just outside the box, allowing Medunjanin to lace the free kick over the Rapids’ defensive wall and inside the right post for the 2-1 Union lead.

“I know I can shoot from there and when I hit the ball, I knew it was going to go in,” Medunjanin said. “We don’t have star players. We need to fight with each other and take the three points with each other, even the bench and everybody out of the squad.” 

Having played Wednesday, the Union shifted their roster to stay fresh. Most notable was the absence of Fabinho, who was replaced in favor of Giliano Wijnaldum, who made his MLS debut. Fabian Herbers also made the start for Pontius on the right side of the midfield but was forced out in the 26th because of a hip injury.

“It was an opportunity for him,” Curtin said of Herbers. “Unfortunately, he could be out for some time.”