Union pass on defense, draft Anding and Okai

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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 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.