Union

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."

Earnie Stewart speculation no distraction for 'focused' Union

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Earnie Stewart speculation no distraction for 'focused' Union

With the Union on a two-game winning streak and facing the talented New York Red Bulls Saturday, talk around MLS should be about the team's opportunity to become a factor in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, the attention has been on sporting director Earnie Stewart.

“The club’s made a statement regarding Earnie,” Union manager Jim Curtin said during Thursday’s press conference at Talen Energy Stadium. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have him here.”

Stewart, 49, who is in his third season at the Union helm and has 101 caps for the U.S. men’s national team, has been a known candidate for the national squad’s open general manager position. But on Wednesday, New York's Metro reported that Stewart is the “likely favorite” and "in negotiations" for the role.

The team’s statement was roughly, “No comment.”

“For him to be in the conversation with U.S. soccer speaks to the pedigree and quality that he has,” Curtin said. “I can’t speculate or talk about what if this happens or this. I try to stay in the moment. Earnie is our leader and a guy who is focused on us beating the Red Bulls. That’s where we stand.”

With 23 games left in the season, news of Stewart’s potential departure is a surprising turn of events for the Union, who have just recently witnessed success by claiming back-to-back wins following a lengthy winless streak. 

Still, the 4-5-2 club is on pace for its third consecutive 11-14-9 season. Under Stewart, the Union are a paltry 26-33-20, with one playoff appearance. But despite news breaking prior to the important match against the 7-3-0 Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, Curtin waved off any potential distraction.

“Conversations come up all the time during the course of the year,” he said. “There’s always reports and talented people get talked about a lot in the soccer world. Earnie is no different. He’s very good at what he does and with that brings attention from other areas."

If Stewart, who played in three World Cups for the U.S., were offered and accepts the USMNT GM position, it would be a natural fit. The Dutch-American midfielder left a personnel position at AZ Alkmaar, and likely turned down opportunities in Europe, to join the Union, where he was able to get his foot in the door of American soccer.

Now it appears like the top of the nation's soccer mountain is within his grasp. 

"That’s pro sports," Curtin said. "People who have a lot to offer are hot commodities and Earnie is one because he’s very good at what he does.”

Forgotten Marcus Epps makes most of rare opportunity in Union win

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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."