Interim coach Curtin lays out new plan for Union

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Interim coach Curtin lays out new plan for Union

Beginning his tenure as Union interim manager with a 3-7-6 record, Jim Curtin has a hill to climb to guide his club toward respectability in 2014.

And according to the coach, that’s not just the goal, it's the expectation.

“The results haven’t been there this year,” said Curtin, who was introduced as the team’s interim manager on Thursday. “We all know that. We only have three wins in 16 games, so the results haven’t been here. But the resources are here to win.”

Curtin’s first order of business is to guide the Union through the Open Cup, which begins on June 17 against the Harrisburg City Islanders. He hopes a strong run in the tournament helps set the Union in a winning direction.

“To put it simply, we’ve had a bunch of very good players have poor first halves of the season,” Curtin said. “We have 18 games left, that’s the good news. We have 18 games to get this ship right. We have the U.S. Open Cup, which we’re going to take very seriously. This club needs a trophy. There’s only two that you can lift, and that’s one of them, so we’re going to take that very seriously.”

Curtin’s plan to turn the Union around starts with three parts. The top point of emphasis will be fixing the Union’s leaky defense by improving focus and upgrading the little areas.

“So far this year, we’ve come up a little bit short on the defensive side,” he said. “To give up the amount of goals we have at home is unacceptable. To give up three goals and five goals can’t happen. No one’s harder on themselves than the players in this locker room. The message is that we have to get stuff right in front of the goal, on attacking restarts, defending restarts, we need to improve on that.”

After fixing fundamentals, Curtin’s second goal is to gain some chemistry with a consistent defensive lineup. No more shifting Sheanon Williams, Austin Berry, Fabinho and Ray Gaddis, off and on the field.

“There hasn’t been continuity,” Curtin said. “We’ve played different guys, and whether it was injuries or different situations that came up, we haven’t had a four that has been playing together, and that’s what it takes. You have to play with each other game in and game out and get used to each other and have a chance. The idea would be to pick a four and go with them, not have it be that we’re juggling game to game.”

The third part is a complete team reset.

“I’ve talked to every player so far on the team,” Curtin said. “They’re excited. Any time that there’s a coaching change, everybody feels that they get a new chance, which is true. I’m going to open this up and say, ‘Every guy has a new crack.’ Obviously, I’ve seen them and I’m familiar with them, but at the same time, I’m going to try to put that behind me and really open up for competition. Because a little bit of fear, a little bit of motivation for the guys that have been consistently in the lineup is a good thing. I think it’s a great motivator. Fear is a good motivator.”

After addressing his plan, Curtin took on his interim tag, stating that he wants to make it a tough decision for team executives to replace him. But immediately after, Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz made it clear the club is shopping for a full-time manager, though the decision will not be rushed.

Either way, Curtin is focused on one thing.

“A lot of the guys that are going to be interviewed are my friends, that I’ve played with in the league and I know them personally and that’s just the way it is,” he said. “Again, I don’t care if I’m fourth in command, third in command, second in command or first in command. I care about winning in this city.”

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.