Union set to face equally struggling FC Dallas

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Union set to face equally struggling FC Dallas

Amidst the trade turmoil involving former captain Danny Califf and riding a three-game losing run, the Union head to Texas to face equally struggling FC Dallas at FC Dallas Stadium, in hopes of wiping clean the mess they left behind in Chester.

Its a tricky game, said coach Peter Nowak, whose opposition is also on a three-game losing swing. FC Dallas had a couple guys with suspensions and they need points -- just like us. Its going to be an interesting game. Itll be physical, because thats how they play at home, and they are trying to find a recipe for success. With Daniel Hernandez and Brek Shea, they try to find a way to win the games. We need to be ready for that.

Sitting at 3-6-3, FC Dallas early-season struggles have mimicked the 2-6-1 Union. Up-and-down momentum swings, injuries and suspensions have played a part in the disappointing season for both clubs.

Weve had some bad luck with some late goals and bad luck keeping the players on the field, FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman told Mark Norris of FCDallas.com. You can say thats bad luck, discipline or intelligence, but those are things that are in our control.

Sound familiar?

However, where FC Dallas and the Union differ is that one is inept on offense, while the others struggles are on defense. With Kevin Hartman in net and former Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz making the odd start, FC Dallas has allowed a league-high 18 goals.

Its the little things that have been costing us games all season, Hernandez told EJ Holland of MLSsoccer.com. Whether it's making a mistake and getting a red card, or ending the game slipping up and making a mistake and letting the opponent back in the game.

Yet, the Union have reason to be optimistic about their shortcomings. Fresh off a 3-2 loss to the New York Red Bulls in which their offense showed a sign of life for the first time all season, the Union are hoping to build off their new two-striker formation of Lionard Pajoy, who scored a pair on Sunday, and Danny Mwanga. In fact, Nowak even hinted at a three-striker system.

We might even play three guys up front, said Nowak. The Schalke friendly the other day with Pajoy, Josue Martinez and Danny Mwanga was good, too. With that type of speed and movement, it makes us successful. Its a good sign of how well go forward, we want to get Josue some time.

Hurting this offensive push will be the loss of Freddy Adu, who was the Unions best player against the Red Bulls before being ejected for yellow card accumulation.

From our standpoint, the suspension of Freddy is a big loss, hes played consistent and last game it was the Freddy we want to see, said Nowak. We need to see what our options are, were not going to play any other way than we did last Sunday.

On the defensive side, the Union will see the return of Gabe Farfan, coming off a three-game suspension. With Califf gone, expect Sheanon Williams to move from right back to the center back position and rookie Ray Gaddis to take over for Williams on the right. Carlos Valdes will stay put in the center and Farfan is expected to return to the left back position, where he had a great deal of success.

Nowak noted that the versatility and growth of Williams has allowed the team flexibility on the back line.

Hes a great defender, hes really good with the ball and isnt afraid to go forward, said Nowak. Hes very good at playing one-on-one and hell embrace the position in a good way.

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.