Union

Inside Doop: Philly kid Derrick Jones enjoys memorable MLS debut

Inside Doop: Philly kid Derrick Jones enjoys memorable MLS debut

You could say the Union traveled a long way and spent a lot of time in Vancouver to end up playing in a game without any goals.

But there are still some exciting things the Union can take from their season-opening scoreless draw with the Whitecaps -- a very promising MLS debut from one Philly youngster at the top of the list.

In the first Inside Doop of the 2017 season, we'll take a look at that debut -- and a few others -- before peering ahead to the Union's challenging home opener.

Three thoughts about Sunday's game
1. Two years ago, head coach Jim Curtin decided to take a high school senior named Derrick Jones with the Union to preseason camp in Florida. From there, the skilled 6-foot-3 midfielder who emigrated to Philadelphia from Africa graduated from YSC Academy, signed with USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel as their first-ever player, signed a Homegrown contract with the Union last year, and on Sunday, was inserted into the starting lineup in his first MLS game. And, boy, did he deliver. The best thing you could say about his performance is he didn’t look like a kid who just turned 20; he looked like a seasoned pro putting out fires in the central midfield all night. The Union have had promising young players flame out in the past, but this one sure looks like he could be a bright star.

2. Jones wasn't the only Union player to make his league debut Sunday. Haris Medunjanin joined him in the midfield in front of veteran center back Oguchi Onyewu, while Jay Simpson started at striker and Fafa Picault came in on the wing. And all in all, the Union looked like a cohesive unit with all of those MLS newcomers playing key roles -- a testament, perhaps, to how Curtin ran the preseason. Onyewu and Medunjanin were especially effective in their roles and Picault showed the kind of speed that will make him a dangerous second-half sub. Simpson didn't do much but he also didn't really get many touches in the box, either.

3. Simpson wasn't the only player to fail to get going offensively. While the Union did put five shots on target (to Vancouver's one), they didn't look especially dangerous in front of goal, aside from a couple of Alejandro Bedoya shots. Because of that, some fans might question why offensive playmaker Roland Alberg didn't come in late to push for the game's first goal. But it was clear that Curtin and company were more than happy to stay compact defensively and leave Vancouver with a well-earned road point.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. Philly's defensive backline of Keegan Rosenberry, Onyewu, Richie Marquez and Fabinho had about as solid of an opening-day performance as you could expect. But things are about to get a lot tougher for them Saturday when the Union welcome star-studded Toronto FC to Talen Energy Stadium for their home opener (4:30 p.m., CSN). Will TFC's star strikers Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore continue to torch the Union as they did last season? Or will the Union find a measure of redemption after Toronto knocked them out of the 2016 playoffs?

2. As far as injuries go, Joshua Yaro and probably Maurice Edu aren't coming back soon. But a more pressing matter is the status of Ilsinho, the Brazilian midfielder who suffered a minor hamstring injury while in Vancouver and was held out of the match. Ilsinho was pushing Fabian Herbers for the team's starting spot on the right wing and had enjoyed a good preseason, so his absence could be a tough one if he's not ready in time for Toronto.

3. Now that he got his MLS debut out of the way, there are naturally more questions about Jones. Can he continue to be a 90-minute player, as he was on Sunday? Will he remain in the starting lineup ahead of the more seasoned Warren Creavalle, Brian Carroll and even Edu when everyone is healthy? How will he perform against Toronto captain Michael Bradley, one of the best American-born soccer midfielders ever?

Stat of the week
The Union are 1-4-3 in season openers and have been outscored, 11-4, in those eight games. They've been shut out in four season openers, including the last three.

Quote of the week
"My opinion may be biased but I thought he was the best player on the field, for both teams."

- Union head coach Curtin on Jones

Player of the week
See above. We'll agree with Curtin on this one.

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

usa_marcus_epps_union.jpg
USA Today Images

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

CHESTER, Pa. — He isn't the big-money, veteran scorer the Union expected to lead them out of their offensive rut, but 23-year-old Marcus Epps was exactly what the Union needed Saturday night.

"It's definitely a process," said Epps, who had a goal and two assists in the Union's 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake at Talen Energy Stadium. "You've just gotta keep your head down and keep working. And when you get moments like this, you've just gotta capitalize."

The second-year winger did just that. Epps buried the Union's opening goal off a Fafa Picault pass, then added a pair of secondary assists for good measure. For a team that managed only eight goals in the 10 matches leading up to Saturday, Epps was a difference-maker.

"We see quality, we see a good kid that wants to get better," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We get excited when he gets on the ball. You can see how uncomfortable he can make it for defenders. We're incredibly proud of his persistence, his ability to keep going. He learned some big lessons and he's now getting the benefit of scoring big goals in front of a great crowd tonight."

Doubling his career production in one night, Epps, who had two goals and an assist in 22 games entering Saturday, started the season as low as fifth on the depth chart behind David Accam, Ilsinho, Picault and Fabian Herbers. 

Coming off a poor preseason, he didn't make the 18-man roster in the club's first seven games. 

"I knew it would come," Epps said, discussing this opportunity. "The coaching staff, they hold all the wingers in high regard. You can only just work on your game and believe in yourself and believe the chances are gonna come."

Picked 25th in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Epps earned his first start of the season last week in the form of a 75-minute, 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact. It was a roster rotation move for the Union, who were at the tail end of a three-game road swing. But against RSL, the coaches put faith in the youngster, starting him over Accam. 

"We had a long debate whether to stick with him or go back to David or Ilsinho, more experienced players," Curtin said. "But we believed in the kid, gave him an opportunity and he stepped up." 

Between his secondary assist on Borek Dockal's first-half score or his hold-up play that allowed Ilsinho to tap-in a second-half insurance tally, Epps made an impact at the perfect time for the Union. His teammates took notice. 

"I loved what I saw from him today," Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. "We talked all year about how we need to push everyone. No one is guaranteed a spot on this team, whether it's me as a captain or [Designated Player] or young guy. Everyone has to fight for a position. He's been knocking on the door all season and today he showed what he's capable of."

Union, Borek Dockal crush Real Salt Lake for 2nd straight win

usa_borek_dockal_union.png
USA Today Images

Union, Borek Dockal crush Real Salt Lake for 2nd straight win

BOX SCORE 

CHESTER, Pa. — Make it two for the Union. 

With production from Borek Dockal and Marcus Epps, the Union claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this season by easily taking down Real Salt Lake, 4-1, on a foggy Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Putting together one of their best efforts of the season, the Union move to 4-5-2, while Real Salt Lake falls to a paltry 4-6-1. 

It looked like one of those snakebitten games for the Union attack in the 20th, when they pressed furiously but were solved by Nick Rimando, who made a strong diving stop on Keegan Rosenberry and then an equally impressive save on Fafa Picault’s rebound volley. 

But despite the early heroics, Rimando wasn’t able to stop Epps just a minute later. The Union found a speed mismatch with Picault against Adam Henley on the left wing and took full advantage, as he gained the box and ripped a low cross that was cleanly finished by Epps for the 1-0 Union lead. 

Rimando was still the best player on the field for RSL despite giving up four goals. He finished with five stops, many of which were eye-popping. The mercy rule would have been enacted without him. 

The 21st minute goal was Epps’ first of the season and third of his MLS career. He made the start for struggling David Accam, who is still scoreless in 10 games this season. Epps captured two assists as well. 

Dockal kept the Union momentum rolling in the 34th, when, off the rush, he accepted a smooth lead pass from Alejandro Bedoya and gently lifted his top-of-the-box shot over Rimando to double the Union’s advantage. 

It was a deserved reward for Dockal, who was arguably the best Union player in the first half. It was his second goal in 10 games. He also added two assists for two goals and four helpers on the season. 

Despite being dominated early, RSL didn’t go home empty-handed. The visitors got one back in the 65th, when a scramble in the box allowed Sebastian Saucedo to find Damir Kreilach at the top of the box for the easy low-shot goal, to cut into the Union’s lead, 2-1.

But the Union didn’t panic. Off the rush in the 74th minute, Epps dropped a pass to Dockal that sprung the newcomer in alone with Rimando. Instead of ripping a shot, Dockal chipped a center pass to Ilsinho for the easy tap-in. It was his second of the season. 

Piling on, Rosenberry decided to show off in the 81st, when he fired off a golazo from way outside the box. The rocket shot slipped through defenders and beat Rimando clean for the 4-1 Union lead. It was Rosenberry’s first goal in his last 25 games.

While it was a convincing win, if the Union want three-in-a-row, it won’t come easy. The club hits the road once against on Saturday to take on the 6-3-0 New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.