The Inside Doop: Union season hits new low

658836.jpg

The Inside Doop: Union season hits new low

Is this the bottom?

On Saturday, the Philadelphia Unions disappointing season reached a new level when they dropped a 1-0 decision to previously winless and pointless Toronto FC. And afterwards, Union manager Peter Nowak whos already under heavy scrutiny from fans blasted his teams effort and execution.

Heres a closer look at the loss that dropped the Union to 2-7-2 on the season, and a look ahead to whats next for the struggling club:

Three thoughts from Saturdays game

1) Throughout his tenure as Union boss, Nowak has been living dangerously by keeping few natural defenders on his roster. That cost the Union on Saturday when right back Ray Gaddis needed to come out of the game in the first half because he was feeling sick. With no defenders on the bench in part due to the recent trade of Danny Califf, the international absence of Porfirio Lopez and an injury to Chris Albright Nowak plugged midfielder Michael Lahoud into the backline. And it was Lahoud who ended up getting victimized on the play that led to the games only goal in the 88th minute.

2) Nowak was upset with the entire team for putting only two shots on target but specifically called out Freddy Adu for not having a feeling for the game in Toronto. Adus performance was especially disappointing because he was brilliant in the first half against the Red Bulls two weeks ago before missing the next three halves because of a red card. Union fans should pray that red-card suspension didnt stall the momentum the talented midfielder was building and that Adu can regain his footing as the teams top playmaker.

3) Due to injuries to Zac MacMath (concussion symptoms) and Chase Harrison (ankle sprain), the Union started their third goalie in as many games. And just as Harrison did last week, third-string keeper Chris Konopka performed excellently in net, making six saves and keeping his team in the game despite an offensive onslaught from Toronto. The Union have shown they have an impressive collection of goalkeepers, even if all three dont have much MLS experience. Right now, that position is the least of their concerns.

Three questions for the upcoming week

1) The Union have an interesting upcoming schedule. Their next league game is not until June 16 but they have a U.S. Open Cup game Tuesday at PPL Park and then a pair of friendlies against affiliates Reading and Harrisburg on June 9 and June 12, respectively. Some teams value the U.S. Open Cup an expansive tournament involving American clubs from all levels more than others but leading up to Phillys contest against the Rochester Rhinos of the USL-Pro Division, Nowak said he will play his first team. Still, given that its not a league game, it will be interesting to see if the Union boss decides to rest some of his banged-up players.

2) A loss to Toronto FC seemed to really rile up the Union fan base. What will happen if the club loses to a lower-division team at home three days later? It certainly wont be pretty.

3) While Lionard Pajoy and Danny Mwanga have taken hold of the starting striker spots, there looks to be an interesting battle brewing for their top backups. Rookie Antoine Hoppenot, a 2012 supplemental draft pick, got 25 surprising minutes against Toronto (after playing just one minute previously in his MLS career) and Josue Martinez also got some run. Meanwhile, 2010 first-round pick Jack McInerney, who hasnt even made the 18-man roster over the past few weeks, made a case for himself by scoring a pair of goals in the clubs Reserve League game in Toronto. Throw rookie Chandler Hoffman into the mix and the Union have a lot of options up top. The question now is which of those players, if any, can help the Union start to score goals. Speaking of which

Fact of the week: Danny Mwanga has played 1,283 minutes since his last goal.

Quote of the week: I congratulate Toronto coach Aron Winter because they wanted it more. They played better. They competed for every ball. They chased for every ball. Thats how teams should play in this league. Union manager Peter Nowak

Player of the week: Despite it being only his second MLS start of his career, Chris Konopka looked comfortable and in control. He was certainly the Unions best player in what was an otherwise forgettable game in Toronto.

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin. The Inside Doop appears every Monday.

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

uspresswire-union-epps-jones.jpg
USA Today Images

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.