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-Orlando City observations: Breaking records in season-ending rout

Union-Orlando City observations: Breaking records in season-ending rout

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. —  In less than three minutes Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium, the match was effectively over. Ilsinho and the Union began their scoring assault in the third minute and didn’t stop until team records and Orlando City were thoroughly broken. The Union easily won the season finale, 6-1.

It was an impressive finish to an unimpressive season for the Union, as the club completed 2017 with an 11-9-14 record and 42 points — a mirror image of 2016. On the other side, equally disappointing Orlando City finished at 10-9-15 and more questions than answers.

• Before fans got settled into their seats, Ilsinho and the Union took the 1-0 lead. In the third minute, Alejandro Bedoya, off the rush, sent a trailing pass from the right side of the box that found a seam and Ilsinho, who easily placed the open shot past Earl Edwards Jr.

• Stunning Orlando City, the onslaught continued three minutes later. Breaking down the right side of the box, Ilsinho’s centering pass found Fafa Picault, who beat his man for a header that went bar-down and in for his sixth goal of the season.

• With the quick goal and assist Sunday, Ilsinho was playing out of his mind. And while it may not make a difference regarding his future with the club, the second-year Union player treated Sunday’s match like a guy facing a team option on his contract at the end of the season.

• Continuing to dominate Orlando City, C.J Sapong produced in the 26th minute, when he buried a cross-box feed from Picault. The goal made it 3-0 Union, but more importantly, gave Sapong 15 goals on the season, setting the Union franchise record for goals in a single season.

• But he wasn't done. Sapong netted his second of the game in the 74th minute, cleaning up a Haris Medunjanin shot and rebound. Totaling 16 goals on the season, Sapong snapped his career high by seven. He was pulled in the 86th minute for the curtain call and ovation.

• Even with the three-goal lead, Picault showed no mercy to Orlando City. The speedster broke free in the 30th minute and fired a shot through the legs of Edwards, who didn’t stand a chance. Picault left the match at halftime with what was suspected to be a concussion.

• While that goal was Picault’s second of the game and fourth for the Union, it also set a record for most goals scored in a single half by a Union team.

• Like a U.S. Open Cup match against an amateur team, the Union made it 5-0 in the 63rd minute. Medunjanin captured his team-leading 12th assist on the season by sending Ilsinho on a clean breakaway for the goal. Sapong made it 6-1, a little over 10 minutes later.

• Orlando City’s goal in the 72nd minute, scored by Dom Dwyer, broke Andre Blake’s shutout and kept the goalkeeper’s 2017 total at nine for the season. That’s three above his career high earned last season when he won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Blake was outstanding Sunday, making four stops.

• Chris Pontius, who came off the bench in the second half, found himself on a breakaway with minutes remaining in the match. His shot hit the post to perfectly sum up his forgettable season.

• Playing his final game in MLS, Brian Carroll, who announced his retirement from professional soccer earlier in the week, received a pre-game name chant and ceremony. Playing his final minutes of the season, the veteran of 371 MLS games, took the captain’s armband and entered the match at halftime

• With the win Sunday, the Union pushed their record at Talen Energy Stadium to 10-4-3 — the best home record in team history. But with a putrid road record of 1-10-6, it’s easy to see why the club struggled in the Eastern Conference.

Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

union-orlando-matchup.jpg

Union-Orlando City thoughts: Aiming to end season, Brian Carroll's career with a win

Orlando City (10-13-9) at Union (15-10-7)
4:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia+

After 33 games, the 2017 season finale is here as the Union return to Talen Energy Stadium for the last time on Sunday to host Orlando City. And although the match is relatively pointless for the two woeful clubs, both teams want to end with a win.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

•At this point, it’s all about pride. Coming off a horrendous regular season that includes just one road victory, a nine-game losing run to begin the campaign and no All-Stars, the Union want to bury their awful season with a win.

“It was a disappointing season,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. “The aim right now is to finish the season on a high note at home. We want to give the fans something to cheer for.”

•With a win, the Union can finish the season with 42 points. That would match last year’s output, which was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Union are eight points out of the postseason prior to Sunday’s match.

•Brian Carroll will say goodbye to the Union and professional soccer on Sunday after announcing his retirement. The 15-year veteran, who played seven of those with the Union, will get on the field against Orlando City for one final run. Next up for the Virginia native? He’s moving to Indianapolis to begin a new career as a financial planner (see story). 

“There’s always a job here with the Philadelphia Union if he wants one,” Jim Curtin said.

•The quiet Carroll, who, at 36, hasn’t played a minute of MLS action this season, ends his career (not including Sunday’s match) fourth all-time in MLS with 370 appearances and sixth all-time in minutes played at 30,778. He’s won two MLS titles and four Supporters’ Shields.

He’s second on the Union’s franchise list for games played at 165, behind only Sebastien Le Toux. But Carroll owns the minutes played title at 13,818. Although it may not have shown through his quiet demeanor, he’s been a really good player for a long time.

•Though it’s the Union’s final match of the season, the club won’t dip into the youth pool. Curtin’s belief is that players who contributed minutes with the Steel throughout 2017 deserved to dress for the USL club’s first playoff game on the road against the Louisville City FC on Friday night.

If Curtin would have known the Steel would have been crushed, 4-0, things might have changed. Adam Najem, Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty made the start.

•One player who didn’t suit up for Steel but also won’t dress for the Union on Sunday is right back Keegan Rosenberry. Coming off a year in which he played every minute of the regular season and earned Rookie of the Year runner-up honors, Rosenberry was suspended by the Union for using social media to gripe about playing time.

The real issue was the timing. A subtle post, in which Rosenberry asked fans to caption an image of him on the bench with a disgusted look, came just hours prior to the Union’s match against the Chicago Fire last weekend. Curtin called it, “unprofessional” and “inappropriate.” Rosenberry ends his season with just 14 games played.

•Curtin and the Union can’t take much from the first time they saw Orlando City, a 2-1 loss on March 18. Cyle Larin, who probably won’t play for his team on Sunday, scored twice for Orlando, sandwiching a lone C.J. Sapong score. 

“That feels like forever ago,” said Curtin, whose club is 2-2-2 against Orlando City all time. “Both of our seasons have shifted, there’s been highs and lows.”

•As usual, Fabian Herbers, Maurice Edu, Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett are out for Sunday. Right-winger Chris Pontius is questionable with an abdominal injury, which could open space for rookie Marcus Epps to earn significant playing time.

•If Orlando wants to take down the Union, it’ll have to do it without Kaka. It was announced by Orlando City that the legend, who isn’t renewing his contract, would not travel for the finale. So, if you wanted to see Kaka, you’ll have to go to Europe. 

•It may be meaningless for the Union and Orlando, but Sunday marks Decision Day around MLS, in which all 11 games are played at 4:00 p.m. In the Eastern Conference, four teams (New York City FC, Atlanta United, Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew) are eying a Knockout Round bye.