Union

Lacking first-rounder, Union seek hidden gem in 2017 MLS SuperDraft

Lacking first-rounder, Union seek hidden gem in 2017 MLS SuperDraft

After engineering a franchise-altering splash at the draft last season, sporting director Earnie Stewart and the Union enter the 2017 MLS SuperDraft on Friday in Los Angeles from a different perspective.

“It’s not going to be as exciting as it was last year,” Stewart said.

Unlike last year, when Stewart changed the course of the franchise by drafting Josh Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers in the 2016 first round, the Union do not possess a first-round selection in Friday’s draft. Instead, the club will have the 33rd and 42nd selection of the second round, along with the 55th, 77th and 82nd picks of the third and fourth rounds which will be selected on Jan. 17.

“We’ve done our homework when it comes to scouting players and what's in the draft right now,” Stewart said. “There’s always those guys that fly under the radar.”

The challenge is identifying that talent. Stewart, who didn’t close the door on trading up in the draft, admitted that his team has its eye on a number of players that could fall to No. 33.

“With the picks that we have, we hope they keep flying under the radar and we’ll be able to pick them up,” he said. “That would be fantastic.”

However, the Union, who traded their original No. 11 pick to the Chicago Fire to move up in allocation order to sign Alejandro Bedoya, and acquired the No. 42 pick from the Colorado Rapids in the Zac MacMath trade, view their position as an opportunity to find a steal.

“It’s great,” Stewart said. “Even with the picks that we have, it’s exciting that we can get players that fly under the radar, good players for the Philadelphia Union. You never know how things shake out. Tom Brady (former sixth-round pick and New England Patriots’ quarterback) is the best example of all. They are there. We try to look at it in a different way. Those guys need to be identified.”

While Stewart wouldn’t tip his hand to whom the Union were looking at, he did shine some light on his draft strategy. The club is always looking for immediate help but is just fine selecting a project.

“You try to look short term,” he said. “If that’s not there, you look a little longer term. You look at our roster, you look at contracts running out and you try to get young kids a chance. We’ll see if we can get a long-term solution.”

The reason a project might work is the Union’s USL affiliate, the Bethlehem Steel. The Union feel comfortable drafting a player to let them mature with heavy playing time and under close guidance of the parent club in the USL.

“With the picks that we have right now there will be young talent there,” Stewart said. “We’ve seen it last year with younger guys that came through our academy like Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty, that we can pick up players who can get valuable minutes with the Bethlehem Steel.”

Although Jeremy Ebobisse, a forward from Duke and the expected first overall pick of expansion site Minnesota United, won’t likely be in the Union’s wheelhouse, local players might.

Guys like forward Alec Neumann from Penn, forward Connor Maloney and defender Robert Sagel from Penn State and Temple forward Jorge Gomez Sanchez could be on the Union’s shortlist as the project they are looking for.

“Everyone says there’s not a lot of talent here but players emerge and have an impact in MLS,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “We have a good eye on the entire country but even stronger understanding the talent in our area and players in our backyard.”

Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

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Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

Updated 4:52 p.m.

Andre Blake will backstop the Union into the future.

The 27-year-old goalkeeper inked a multi-year extension Wednesday. The deal is expected to make Blake one of the highest paid goalkeepers in MLS and was completed using Targeted Allocation Money. 

Further details were not released.

“I am ready to lead,” Blake said. “I’ll definitely try to lead by my performance on the field and the way I carry myself off the field.”

While the extension was a no-brainer for the Union’s on-field success, the move was also an important one off the field. Historically, the club is known for its roster turnover and lack of continuity. Keeping Blake on the books for years to come gives the Union a well-respected face of the franchise that fans can appreciate. 

“It is a priority for us to build and secure the foundation of the Philadelphia Union, and Andre is as big a part of that foundation as any player,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “Ensuring he will be here for years to come is an important step for our club. We’re delighted to sign him to a new multi-year contract and would like to thank him for his dedication and hard work.”

Blake, a former first-overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and 2016 MLS All-Star, earned the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honor and claimed the runner-up spot for the award in 2017. He has proven himself to be one of the most exciting and productive goalkeepers in MLS, with 220 saves and 17 shutouts over 65 career matches.

Because of that success, and his heroics, while captaining the Jamaican National Team, Blake is viewed as someone who could transition to a European club. But despite the prospects and rumors, the Union claim there has never been a serious offer for the goalkeeper, making this extension a possibility.

“Right now my main focus is Philadelphia,” said Blake, who has never shied away from his interest in a European move. “I’m not worried about the future. I’m gonna live in the now and continue to work hard and make my performance speak for itself.”

Union's schedule sets team up for hot start

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Union's schedule sets team up for hot start

The Union’s 2018 season schedule was officially released Thursday and it revealed an advantageous start for the club.

After opening their season against the New England Revolution on March 3, the Union will have a week off before hosting the Columbus Crew on March 17. The club then visits the Colorado Rapids on March 31 but returns home to face the San Jose Earthquakes and Orlando City on April 7 and 13.

Five of the Union’s first seven games will be at Talen Energy Stadium, setting them up for important early success, as the team was an impressive 10-4-3 at home last season but went just 1-10-6 on the road.

But the Union’s early fortune quickly turns with five of their next seven games on the road. The team kicks off that crucial run with a three-game road trip starting on May 4 against the reigning MLS champion Toronto FC, and finishing against the Crew and Montreal Impact. That five-in-seven road set also includes the New York Red Bulls and a visit to the irreplicable home confines of Atlanta United.

Notable matches for the Union include the first-ever clash with expansion side LAFC at the freshly built Banc of California Stadium on June 30 and the Union’s first visit to D.C. United’s brand-new Audi Field (expected to open in June). The Union face the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at CenturyLink Field. Minnesota United (2017 expansion team) will make its first-ever visit to Philadelphia on Oct. 6.

As far as national exposure, the Union will be shown on ESPN twice, April 14 vs. Orlando City and Sept. 23 vs. Sporting Kansas City, and on Unimas once on April 28 against D.C. United.