Union get much-needed win vs. Red Bulls

usa-union-casey-le-toux-redbulls.jpg

Union get much-needed win vs. Red Bulls

Updated 10:30 p.m.

CHESTER, Pa. -- If you asked interim manager Jim Curtin, Wednesday’s match against the New York Red Bulls was a do-or-die game, with the Union’s dimming playoff hopes at stake.  

In response, the club survived.

Conor Casey started the scoring and Sebastien Le Toux finished it as the Union beat the Red Bulls, 3-1, at PPL Park.

“That’s the response I wanted,” Curtin said. “I didn’t know I would get it, but they brought it. To a man, every guy really, really brought it. Our response there was going to dictate how the rest of our season went. To grab three points tonight against an Eastern Conference opponent was big for us.”

The home win was the Union’s first since March 15 against the New England Revolution. They are now 2-2-5 at PPL Park and 5-8-7 on the season. The Red Bulls fell to 5-6-8.

“We made a statement tonight,” Curtin said. “Respect isn’t given, it’s earned and we had to grab it. We did that tonight.”

It took only nine minutes and an impressive individual effort by Casey for the Union to grab the early lead. After accepting a quick pass from Andrew Wenger, Casey -- who saw relaxed defense at the top of the box -- deked defender Matt Miazga. Moving the ball from his right foot to his left, the veteran striker found an opening for the 1-0 Union lead.

It was Casey’s sixth goal in his last six MLS games. It was also his ninth goal in 11 career games against the Red Bulls.

“As a team we’ve been playing a lot better collectively and getting a lot of chances,” Casey said. “Confidence is high with the group. It’s about riding that confidence right now and making the best of opportunities.”

Later in the first half, Union midfielder and leading assist man Cristian Maidana left the contest with a leg injury. He was replaced in the 38th minute with Fred.

“He called it a small, little pull,” Curtin said of Maidana’s injury. “It’s too early to speculate.”

And the man known as “Grandpa Fred” by his teammates made the most of his opportunity.

Off a counterattack in the 51st minute, Fred played the ball outside to Sheanon Williams, who moved forward and sent a low cross into the box. The ball deflected off a touch from Casey and right to the uncovered Fred, who didn’t miss, placing his shot through Luis Robles and in for the 2-0 advantage.

It was Fred’s first MLS goal since 2010 in his first stint with the Union.

“You have to be ready,” Fred said. “You have to be ready any time the team needs it.”

But the celebration was short lived. In the 60th minute, striker Bradley Wright-Phillips made it 2-1 when he was left open by center back Ethan White at the top of the box. He fired it home for his league-leading 16th goal of the season and fifth in his last four games.

“He took a touch in the top 18, and I should have closed that space,” White said. “He spinned it around me, used me as a shield. Zac [MacMath] didn’t make the save, and I didn’t step out in time.”

Eight minutes later, a beneficial call in the box helped the Union reattain their two-goal cushion. On a corner kick in the 68th minute, while streaking toward the ball, Maurice Edu was wrapped up from behind by Red Bulls defender Eric Alexander. It was blatant enough to warrant a penalty kick.

Lining up for the charity shot, Le Toux pounded the ball high over Robles to make it 3-1 Union. It was Le Toux’s team-leading seventh goal of the season.

MacMath handled the rest. Covering up for lackluster defending by the Union, MacMath made four saves in the second half and five in total to preserve the victory.

“Zac bailed us out a few times there,” Curtin said. “He made some big saves for us, which is what you need, you need that from your goalkeeper. He did a great job.”

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.