Union must set tempo in home opener vs. Rapids

705538.jpg

Union must set tempo in home opener vs. Rapids

CHESTER, Pa. -- The two-goal loss in their season opener against the Portland Timbers on Monday did not sit well with the Union players or coaches. Losing is one thing, but getting blown out after earning the second-half lead is something else entirely.

So when the Union return home to PPL Park on Sunday to host the Western Conference Colorado Rapids, they will be working to re-write their cringe-inducing start.

We still have 33 games left, said Union right back Sheanon Williams. There is no reason to hit any panic buttons, its one game. Its a long season and we didnt go undefeated last year, it happens. Wed like to win every game but thats not a realistic goal. We take the positives and look forward to Sunday.

The difference between playing at extremely hostile JELD-WEN Field and coming home is that the rabid fans will be at the Unions back -- an emotional boost that cant go overlooked.

Everybody is extremely excited, its been a long off-season away from PPL, said Williams. Ive talked to a few new guys and its hard to explain, they just have to see for themselves.

What plagued the Union against the Timbers was giving up too much space on the edges and allowing the opposition to make plays. Given an opportunity to create from the outside, the Timbers took full advantage, scoring three unanswered goals. After originally seizing momentum on a Gabriel Gomez goal in the 51st minute, the Union could only watch as the game slipped away.

It was a good first game in terms of intensity, it was especially good for the newcomers, said coach Peter Nowak. I think we adjusted to that environment very well. What happened after that -- we didnt give up -- but we left the space wide open for them and they took advantage. We need to match the intensity, physicality and do better all around.

The Rapids dominated the Columbus Crew, 2-0, in their opener. Similar to how the Timbers found space and made the Union pay for defensive mistakes, the Rapids took what the Crew gave them in the offensive third and capitalized with goals from Drew Moor and Quincy Amarikwa.

But instead of react to how the Rapids want to play, the Union are focused on setting the tempo early and following it throughout.

Were focusing on ourselves and forcing what we do well, said Williams. The game is at PPL, so we want to impose our game on them and play how we like to play. We dont want them coming into here and dictating how the game is played.

To do that, Nowak says his club needs to win the individual battles.

Colorado is a lot like Portland, they are very physical and they rely on speed and strength, said Nowak. you have to win the match-ups on the field. We need to make sure we stay compact, organized. We need to make sure our guys have all the information and are ready for the game.

Im sure they are going to be excited about the home opener and they will enjoy the crowd. But first things first, we need to match the physicality and intensity of the game.

The Union did receive from good news on the injury situations involving midfielder Roger Torres and defensive depth piece Chris Albright. Nowak noted that both are expected to be on the game-day lineup on Sunday.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com

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.