Union pass on defense, draft Anding and Okai


Union pass on defense, draft Anding and Okai

With the 26th and 31st pick in 2013 MLS SuperDraft on Thursday afternoon in Indianapolis, the Union acquired attacking speed in winger Don Anding, familiarity with midfielder Stephen Okai and two extra 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft picks.

After trading away the fifth overall selection to the Vancouver Whitecaps for the right to sign defender Bakary Soumare in mid-2012, the Union kept active with transactions, moving the 29th selection to Real Salt Lake for the 31st pick, along with the 12th and 17th picks of the MLS Supplemental Draft, which takes place on Jan. 22.

With the 26th selection, the Union passed on a glaring need at left back and took a chance on Anding.

Considered a burning speedster, Anding, a 5-foot-11 New York native out of Northeastern University, was a stunning selection for the Union, who are are loaded at the forward position. With Jack McInerney, Sebastien Le Toux, Antoine Hoppenot and 2012 first-round draft selection Chandler Hoffman, Anding is an addition at a position of depth for coach John Hackworths club.

However, Andings speed does set him apart from the Unions current group of attackers. Known to stretch defenses, the 21-year-old could be used on the left wing as a second forward or even left back, as a counterattack specialist. He scored 14 goals in 21 games with Northeastern in 2012.

Athletically he is very gifted, but it was his character that won us over, Hackworth said. When you are looking for a guy to work in a couple of different positions, his personality and the fact that hell work hard, along with the natural tools and gifts that he has, he was a guy that we wanted and we feel fortunate to grab him.

As the draft played out and left backs such as Greg Cochrane, Jimmy Nealis, John Gallagher and Dylan Remick dropped like rocks down the board, the Union got opportunistic. Making a trade with Salt Lake, the Union acquired Okai, a Ghanaian-born standout and well-rounded midfielder from the University of Mobile in the NAIA.

Nealis, Cochrane and Remick were selected shortly after.

What makes Okai an interesting pick is his relationship with Union assistant coach Brendan Burke, who also works as the head coach for the Reading United of the USL PDL -- where Okai spent much of 2012. Its been speculated that with depth at midfield, the Union can afford to use midfielder turn centerback, Amobi Okugo, as a defender moving forward.

Stephen is probably one of the most ready players in this draft that can step onto an MLS team and play right away, Hackworth said. Hes experienced beyond his years and having a lot of personal knowledge of him it was hard to deny that he was going to be a guy that we werent looking at.

The 2014 MLS SuperDraft will take place in Philadelphia.

E-mail Ryan Bright at ryanbright13@gmail.com.

Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

USA Today Images

Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

Playoff soccer is returning to Chester for the first time in five years, and while fans prep for the Union’s first postseason games since 2011, there is no shortage of seating options for Union tickets on the primary market.

Perhaps most importantly, fans won’t have to break the bank to be on hand as the Union compete for their first MLS Cup in franchise history. Union field level seats are available for both the team’s final home regular season game against the New York Red Bulls and the Eastern Conference Semifinal on October 30 should they advance past the knockout round.

The team’s official website lists feet-on-the-pitch seating starting from $155 per ticket for this weekend’s game against the Red Bulls. The first-place Red Bulls head to Talen Energy Stadium with a first-round bye secured, but Union head coach Jim Curtin expects them to bring the pressure with them on Sunday. Fans can look on up close – and for relatively cheap - as the Union look to hand the Eastern Conference leaders their final loss of the regular season.

The Union will take on either New York City FC or Toronto FC in the knockout round either next Wednesday or Thursday. Pending a victory on the road, they’ll return to Talen Energy Stadium to host an Eastern Conference Semifinal game on October 30. Field level seating is still widely available for the team’s first home playoff game since 2011 and start from $178 per ticket.

2016 marks the franchise’s second MLS Cup Playoffs berth in its seven-year existence. They clinched a first-round bye in 2011 but fell to the Houston Dynamo by a 3-1 aggregate in the Conference Semifinals. The Union bring a much different vibe into the playoffs this season, however, after a formidable stretch from September on nearly drowned their postseason hopes. The team won its last game on August 27 against Sporting Kansas City, losing four games and drawing in two others since. 

Despite the team’s recent struggles, there is a sense of renewment that will carry them into the MLS Cup Playoffs. Records are cast aside and the slate is wiped clean, beginning a new path on the long and often tumultuous road to a national championship.

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

As playoffs near, newcomer Alejandro Bedoya delivers message to Union

CHESTER, Pa. — When the Union coaches were about to wrap up a team meeting earlier this week, Alejandro Bedoya raised his hand.

The new midfielder had something he wanted to say.

“I was able to give a talk to the team Monday and let them know we’re all in this together, this is the end of the season, guys are playing for their livelihoods really,” Bedoya said Wednesday. “We don’t know what’s gonna happen next season. Some guys are gonna retire, some guys are gonna leave, get traded, go somewhere else. 

“This is a great opportunity we have in front of us now with the playoffs and trying to win an MLS Cup here in Philly.”

Bedoya, of course, is one of the team’s least-tenured players, coming over in August from France for his first stint in MLS. And there are other players on the team who have worn the captain’s armband, including Brian Carroll, Tranquillo Barnetta and Maurice Edu.

But Bedoya, a U.S. national team starter who forged a successful career in Europe, brings a unique viewpoint into what will be his first foray into the MLS Cup playoffs. And Curtin was happy to see his new midfielder emerge as a locker room leader after a lifeless 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC on Sunday sunk the Union's chances of possibly hosting a game when the playoffs begin next week.

“To be honest, it’s one of the first time it’s happened, where guys put their hand up and looked in the mirror, which is important,” Curtin said. “I think that shows good leadership, it shows we are a team that’s in this thing together. It’s kind of commonplace for the coach to take blame and put his hand up because I am ultimately in charge of the lineup and what goes out there. But for whatever reason, on the day it just wasn’t us, it didn’t feel like us. And to have guys recognize that was important.”

Bedoya certainly took his share of the blame for the loss to Orlando, admitting he wasn’t at his best after returning from a rib injury that held him out of two recent U.S. national team games.

To be fair though, nobody was at their best, which made for an awkward situation after the game when the Union learned they all but guaranteed a playoff berth — thanks to a Chicago Fire win over the New England Revolution — but didn’t much feel like celebrating.

“It doesn’t take a genius to look at that game and say that was a lackluster effort at best,” Bedoya said. “For us, it’s just staying optimistic. We know we have a great group of guys. We know we have a good team. When we’re playing well, when we’re on our game, we can compete with anybody in this league.”

The Union will get a chance to show that when they host the New York Red Bulls in Sunday’s regular-season finale (4 p.m., TCN). 

The Red Bulls are an MLS Cup contender and have the top seed in the East all but locked up. The Union are also firmly planted into their own spot, so the game doesn’t have many implications aside from Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips’ Golden Boot chase.

But for the Union, the game is still being viewed as a big one because the last thing they want is to enter the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak — and then, perhaps, enter the offseason on an eight-game winless streak, a dubious distinction that would cast a shadow over the accomplishment of making the playoffs for just the second time in club history.

“It’s very important,” Bedoya said. “I think it’s more than about pride. You gotta play for yourself, for each other. You’re representing this club, this organization, this city. I think we know the last performance was not good enough, not nearly good enough at all. It can only be better. We just have to try to get a result and play our best so we can get some momentum going into the playoffs.”

Considering the Union are playing the best team in the East followed by a playoff game against possibly Toronto FC or New York City FC — two teams loaded with stars — any win from here on out would be considered an upset. 

But Bedoya is a star in his own right, and the team’s new Designated Player is trying his best to spread a positive message heading into what will be the defining moments of the 2016 season.

And his teammates are listening.

“Definitely, he is a big-time player, a guy who can make big plays and make stuff for us and it’s great to have him,” goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I think on any given day, when all the guys are bought-in and sharp, we can stand up against any team and give it a good run. And I think hopefully this Sunday, we can get back on a run going into the playoffs.”