Union fall to Timbers in MLS season opener

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Union fall to Timbers in MLS season opener

BOX SCORE
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Scottish striker Kris Boyd scored the go-ahead goal and the Portland Timbers went on to win their home opener 3-1 over the Philadelphia Union on Monday night.
Boyd's first Major League Soccer goal came off Kalif Alhassan's cross in the 66th minute against Union goalkeeper Zac McMath.
Boyd, the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer, was acquired by the Timbers in the offseason. His goal came with the match tied at 1 after a Portland own goal and Andrew Jean Baptiste's equalizer earlier in the half.
Alhassan added a goal of his own in the 76th minute in the MLS opener for both teams.
The Portland Timbers went 11-14-9 last year and finished out of the playoffs in their inaugural season, but they were 9-5-3 at home where they have the support of their wildly enthusiastic supporters' group, the Timbers Army.
Philadelphia finished 11-8-15 and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals, but the team was active in the offseason, bringing in 14 players and losing 13. Among the players gone are leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon.
Like last season, the Timbers Army opened the season at home by singing the national anthem before the entire stadium lofted colored cards -- small tarps actually, because of a driving rain -- in a "tifo" fan display in honor of the team.
Temperatures in the low 40s accompanied the rain when the nationally televised game started. The wind impacted the trajectory of the ball at times when it was airborne.
McMath had a strong first half, fending off five Timbers' shots.
The Union got a scare in the 24th minute when defender Carlos Valdes went down after a collision with Boyd. A stretcher was brought on to the field, but Valdes walked off and was able to return.
Philadelphia midfielder Gabriel Gomez's hard kick from out in front of the box was helped by Jean-Baptiste before it sailed past goalkeeper Troy Perkins for an own goal in the 51st minute. .
But the Timbers evened it in the 54th minute when Jean-Baptiste's header was bobbled by McMath and bounced into the goal.
Jean-Baptiste was selected with the eighth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft this year out of Connecticut. He got the start Monday night because defender Futty Danso fractured a bone in his left foot during training and will be out four to six weeks.
Boyd was greeted with rousing applause during player introductions at the start of the match. The 28-year-old had 164 goals in 296 appearances in the SPL with Kilmarnock and Rangers. He was that league's top scorer for four seasons.
Another Timbers offseason acquisition, Franck Songo'o of Cameroon, who played last season for Spanish side Albacete. The 24-year-old injured his right knee in training and did not play.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber was at the game.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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.