Marcus Epps

Union-Sounders observations: Union stave off playoff elimination with win

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Union-Sounders observations: Union stave off playoff elimination with win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- The Union fought off playoff elimination Sunday afternoon as they overwhelmed defending MLS champion Seattle Sounders, 2-0, at Talen Energy Stadium.

Setting a new club record for home wins, the Union, now 10-13-9 overall, are four points out of playoff position with two games remaining. The Sounders, who could have clinched playoff position with a win, fall to 12-9-11.

• While the Union will likely end 2017 outside the playoff picture, they are roaring down the stretch at Talen Energy Stadium. The club is 3-1-1 in its last five matches at home, earning points against teams with a combined 52-35-38 record. That includes the Sounders, Chicago Fire, Atlanta United and FC Dallas.

• Now 9-4-3 at home, the Union set a club record for total wins in a single season. The previous record was eight, set in 2016. Now if the Union could do something about their 1-9-6 road record they might be onto something.

• According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Union have been surprisingly good at home since May 1.

• Motivated early, Fafa Picault and C.J. Sapong tested Stefan Frei in the 19th minute, firing off a pair of chances that were fought away by the goalkeeper. But while saving his club early, Frei would eventually break in the 28th minute, when Ilsinho lifted a pass to the right to Marcus Epps who collected himself before placing his left-footed chances past Frei for the opening goal.

• Following an offensive flurry midway through the second half that should have resulted in a Union goal, Ilsinho, who paced the attack, went down injured. Although he walked off under his own power, the Brazilian was replaced by Roland Alberg.

Alberg did what Alberg does in the 88th minute, crushing a right-footed shot from the left side of the box that completely fooled Frei and found the far corner, icing the Union’s 2-0 win. It was Alberg’s seventh goal in 22 games.

• Frustration mounted for the Union with 10 minutes to go in the first half when Picault, on a shoulder-to-shoulder breakaway with defender Kelvin Leerdam, was bodied to the ground just outside the box.

There was no foul called on the play, despite heavy protest from the Union. If called, the foul would have been a red-card ejection for Leerdam for impeding a clear scoring opportunity.

• Although the Union played a stellar match as a whole, Fabinho stood out. The left back was an offensive force, earning a team-high three shots.

• Coming off the bench in the 55th minute, Sounders forward Clint Dempsey entered the match for Jordy Delem, making the Sounders even more dangerous. The move paid off as Dempsey earned a pair of potent chances that were turned away by heroic Andre Blake.

Blake finished the match with a five-save shutout.

• Minutes before the match began, Chris Pontius was pulled from the starting lineup for Epps. According to the team, the veteran winger tweaked something in his abdomen. If the injury is serious, it could put an end to what has been a nightmare season for Pontius, who is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

• The injury to Pontius left the Union light at right wing, forcing Union manager Jim Curtin to get creative. In the 77th minute, rarely-used forward Jay Simpson spelled Epps on the right side.

Simpson made his presence felt in the 87th minute with a golden opportunity. He headed a chip pass from Picault that was pushed away by Frei. However, the play earned the corner that Alberg’s goal originated from.

• Keegan Rosenberry (ankle), Josh Yaro (knee) and Warren Creavalle (hamstring) were scratched from the match with injuries, allowing Ray Gaddis, Richie Marquez and Ilsinho to jump back into starting positions. For the Sounders, Jordan Morris, Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso missed the match.

• Next up, the Union travel to Chicago to challenge the Fire, who are 11-2-3 at Toyota Park this season. The Union crushed the Fire, 3-1, on Sept. 23 at Talen Energy Stadium.

C.J. Sapong, Union roll over shorthanded Crew

C.J. Sapong, Union roll over shorthanded Crew

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Led by an offensive explosion from C.J. Sapong, the Union rode the early lead and man advantage to easily defeat the Columbus Crew, 3-0, on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

“One of our hopes is to be in the playoffs and our home games are most important,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “Hopefully this gets some momentum going. I told them it was imperative that we win this game.” 

Avenging last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to the Crew, who are now 10-11-1, the Union snapped a two-game losing streak to keep pace in the Eastern Conference. Five points behind the Crew for the final playoff spot, the Union desperately needed a positive result to move to 7-9-5 on the season.

“We had a bad taste in our mouth,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “I think the guys really responded tonight.”

John McCarthy completed the two-save shutout.

That desperation was on display early as the Union capitalized off some in-box confusion and an impressive pass from Sapong in the 20th minute. Jumping on an errant clear by the Crew, Sapong completed a bicycle kick centering pass to Ilsinho, who placed his rocket shot past Downingtown, Pennsylvania, native Zack Steffen for the 1-0 Union lead.

The match drastically changed in the Union’s favor in the 35th minute.

Causing a Justin Meram turnover in the defensive zone, Haris Medunjanin played the ball ahead to Ilsinho, who skillfully found Roland Alberg streaking down the right side. With his head up and the defense outnumbered, the midfielder played a perfect lead pass that broke Sapong in alone on goal. But Sapong was immediately hauled down from behind by Jonathan Mensah to earn the Crew player a straight red card and the Union a penalty kick.

Crew manager Gregg Berhalter was not happy with the call.

“We’re putting the result away,” he said. “I already told the guys after the game, we didn’t get beat by Philadelphia tonight, we got beat by the three men in red. We’re OK. We’ll regroup. We’re gonna be fine. The morale’s gonna be fine.”

Yet, the Union were unable to capitalize right away. Alberg and Sapong were caught in a heated conversation over who takes the shot with Alberg eventually lining up, despite a strong protest from his teammate. The gamble wouldn’t pay off for Alberg as his shot found the hands of Steffen and the crossbar to stay out.

“I had the ball and was thinking I was going to score today,” Alberg said. “I missed, but last year and this year, I took a lot of PKs and didn’t miss. It was a chance for me to score but sometimes it happens and you miss. It’s unlucky, but the most important thing is three points today.” 

Playing a type of half-court offense as a result of total possession, the Union pressed for the second goal. But it took until the 66th minute for them to get it. Off a lofted pass from Giliano Wijnaldum, Sapong headed the ball off the right post and back to himself for the unconventional goal and 2-0 Union advantage. 

It was Sapong’s career-high 10th goal of the season.

“I think in the moment it meant more for me than I would’ve thought,” Sapong said of his 10th. “It’s always good to break any barriers. But again, that’s still just a stat. I want to continue to keep helping my team. This next half of the season, I need to keep performing and producing to help my team.”

Things unraveled further for the Crew in the 76th minute when Lalas Abubakar received a straight red for what referee Ismail Elfath deemed violent contact in a collision with Ilsinho. With room to run, Marcus Epps scored his first MLS goal in the 81st minute off a pass from Sapong and Ilsinho. The rookie finished with eight shots on goal.

“I was getting frustrated for a minute but my mindset from the beginning of the game was to get shots off and be aggressive,” Epps said. “So I’m just happy one of them went in the net.”

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.