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's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

usa_union_usopen.jpg
USA Today Images

Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

CHESTER, Pa. — Alejandro Bedoya and Cory Burke led the way Saturday night, as the Union eliminated the New York Red Bulls from the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win at Talen Energy Stadium in the Round of 16.

"It was a very good win against a very good team," said Union manager Jim Curtin. "Survive and advance mentality. We’re three wins away from a trophy, which is something to be proud of."

After taking down the Richmond Kickers to open the tournament, the Union’s victory Saturday sends them to the quarterfinals on July 18, where they will host either regional foes DC United or Orlando City.

• The win was a continuation of an eye-popping 12-match Open Cup unbeaten streak for the Union, who haven’t suffered a regulation loss since 2014. When it comes to the Open Cup, the Union are hard to beat, which they showed against the Red Bulls. 

• Despite it being an Open Cup game, the match had MLS regular-season flavor. The Red Bulls hit the field with a strong starting lineup that included Tyler Adams, Kaku and Luis Robles. In return, the Union dressed Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Andre Blake and Ilsinho.

• Those lineup decisions made for an exciting but fruitless opening half. Both teams worked to strike on the counter by using pressure to jar the ball loose. Led by Fafa Picault, the back-and-forth equalled 17 total shots, with the Union claiming eight of their 11 attempts from inside the box. 

• Eventually, the Union those attempts would begin going in. In the 52nd minute, the Union took the 1-0 lead, when working down the right side into Red Bulls territory, Bedoya cut to the middle and slid possession over to Medunjanin. The veteran faked out his defender and ripped a shot that appeared to deflect and beat Robles.

• The goal seemed to unlock something in the Union. Nearly 10-minutes later, Burke made it 2-0 when a Bedoya pass found him between two defenders. Burke, who had been on the doorstep of a goal all night, broke away and slipped his shot to the right. Bedoya finished with two assists. 

"He’s playing at his highest level for us," Curtin said. "He’s taken a bigger leadership role and tonight was an excellent game from him. Our team will go as our central midfield goes." 

• To catch up, the Red Bulls called on some heavy artillery. In the 60th minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips subbed in for Daniel Royer. He scored in the 77th minute, cutting the Union’s defense, then the lead, in half.

• The Union look to carry Open Cup momentum into the MLS regular season, when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 23 at Talen Energy Stadium.

Union see U.S. winning 2026 World Cup bid as 'inflection point' of American soccer

usa_alejandro_bedoya.jpg
USA Today Images

Union see U.S. winning 2026 World Cup bid as 'inflection point' of American soccer

CHESTER, Pa. — For Jim Curtin, Alejandro Bedoya and everyone else associated with American soccer, the pain of missing the World Cup remains fresh, especially as the tournament kicks off this week.

But Wednesday’s announcement that the United States, in a joint bid with North American neighbors Canada and Mexico, won the vote to host the 2026 World Cup not only eased a lot of that pain but also gave them a whole lot of hope for the future of the sport.

“Obviously this year everybody talks about the big setback and the generation of kids that can’t turn on the TV this go-round and watch the U.S.,” Curtin said during the Union coach’s weekly press conference. “It does hurt the game a bit, for sure, but to now have the World Cup in our home country is something that I think is incredible to grow the game. There’s nothing quite like seeing a World Cup match live. I think that will be a great experience for young kids, a great experience for our country.”

As for Bedoya, the Union captain will probably never get over the U.S. national team’s recent World Cup failure, especially since he played a prominent role at the 2014 World Cup and during this past qualifying cycle before watching from the bench in horror as the Americans were stunned by Trinidad and Tobago last October to miss out on Russia 2018. 

And given his age, the 31-year-old midfielder will be past his prime for the next World Cup in Qatar, and possibly retired when the World Cup comes to North America in eight years. Even still, it’s nice to think about what hosting the 2026 World Cup could mean for the growth of the sport he loves.

“Hopefully by that time, 2026, it’s like the inflection point of soccer in our country,” Bedoya said. “The sport keeps growing, the league keeps getting better. From my time in Europe, I know all of the European guys would love to play in this league, live in America and play here. It’s only a matter of time before soccer continues to take over, let’s say, hockey in the ratings and viewership and attendance. So it’s a big moment we officially got it for our country.”

Curtin agrees the sport has already grown a lot since the last time the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, pointing to increased television coverage of MLS and the big European leagues as well as, more locally, the kids he spots in his Philadelphia neighborhood wearing Bedoya or Lionel Messi jerseys.

He can only imagine how much bigger it will get if Lincoln Financial Field is selected as one of the venues for the 2026 World Cup — and also what that would mean for Philly, a city that he says has a “lot of buzz” right now in a lot of different ways.

“Specifically to Philadelphia, this is a soccer town,” the Union coach said. “There’s a rich history here. It’s tough to predict what 2026 will look like, but to think a team could be using this campus down here [in Chester] as kind of their home base, whether it’s Argentina or Spain or who knows what country, that’s a really good thing to envision.

“It’s great for the game. There’s a lot of happy faces throughout soccer in our country right now.”