Union

Union, Earnie Stewart reveal who's staying and who's going in offseason

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Union, Earnie Stewart reveal who's staying and who's going in offseason

Union sporting director Earnie Stewart and head coach Jim Curtin wrapped up the Union’s 2017 season on Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium, discussing the club’s recently completed campaign and its roster plans for the future. Although the Union released a list of players out of contract, it didn’t tell the full story.

Here’s a breakdown of who is going, staying and stuck in limbo.

Head Coach Jim Curtin 
If Curtin somehow survived 16 straight winless games between the end of 2016 and the start of 2017, there was little chance he’d lose his job at season’s end, despite missing the playoffs and earning just one road win. Stewart confirmed that Curtin was staying on Wednesday. 

“I’m very pleased and proud to announce that Jim Curtin will be the head coach in 2018 and we’ll make sure that we keep going in the same direction that we have been going in,” Stewart said confidently. “I think he’s a big part of this foundation that we’ve laid down.”

Assistant Coach Mike Sorber and Goalkeeping Coach Oka Nikolov 
Despite a report that both Sorber and Nikolov would seek employment elsewhere during the offseason, Stewart would only confirm that Nikolov was out. In awkward fashion, the Union decision-maker said he was unaware that Sorber, Union assistant coach since 2014, was walking away from the club.

“Mike hasn’t come to us to say that he’s going,” Stewart said. “Up to today, the rest of the coaching staff will stay. But soccer is soccer.” 

Midfielder Roland Alberg 
The shot-first midfielder has been incredibly productive over his two seasons with the Union, scoring 16 goals and four assists over 2024 minutes. That’s a goal every 126.5 minutes. 

“I think Roland has had a very good role within the Philadelphia Union,” Stewart said. “When you look at Roland Alberg and his biggest quality, anything that gets close to the 18-yard-box, everything gets on target. Even though he’s a midfielder, I want to say he’s one of the best scorers that we have out there.” 

But his inability to keep possession and get others involved never made him a favorite of teammates or the coaching staff. That, along with the salary that accompanied his contract option, helped Stewart make the decision to let him walk. Alberg has signed with CSKA Sofia of Bulgaria.

“We came to the conclusion that the number that he was at, it wasn’t the right fit,” Stewart said. “He has the opportunity now to go to CSKA Sofia. He’s going to be making that step. I think his role has been good in the last two years.”

Winger Chris Pontius
In 2016, Pontius had a career year, putting up 12 goals and six assists in 33 games. But 2017 was a different story. Despite a U.S. Men’s National Team stint, very little worked for the veteran as he struggled with two goals and six assists. 

Now, the 30-year-old California native has the rare opportunity to be an unrestricted MLS free agent and pick his next destination. Pontius joins Maurice Edu and Charlie Davies as veterans not returning to the Union. 

“We made a decision on that,” Stewart said. “Chris Pontius will not be coming back. Chris Pontius will be a free agent.”

Midfielder Ilsinho 
Ilsinho’s option wasn’t picked up but the Union want him back. He’s a dazzler and more dynamic than Alberg, which makes him a valuable asset, but consistency has been an issue. The 32-year-old playmaker has only captured eight goals and seven assists in 52 games. His production is way below his skill level.

“You’ve seen the roster moves that we’ve made,” Stewart said. “There are certain players on that roster that we have not picked up an option that we are still interested in, and I dare say that Ilsinho is one of those players.”

Winger Fabian Herbers
Though Herbers’ contract option wasn’t picked up, the club wants him back. The former sixth-overall selection in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft was on a Generation Adidas deal that ran out heading into 2018, leaving the Union on the hook for a pricey bill. 

Instead, the club broke him from that contract with the goal of resigning him to a friendlier deal. He finished with one goal and two assists in 12 games.

“We still believe in Fabian Herbers,” Stewart said. “It’s always a difficult discussion to have with players where you decline the options. He had a GA status the last two years and once we had taken the option, the GA status was gone so he had to come on to our roster. So it had more to do with the roster itself and the number, but we are still high on Fabian Herbers. We’re looking forward to him being part of the 2018 team.”

Defender Oguchi Onyewu
An unsung hero of the 2017 season that would have been much worse without him, Onyewu will pack his bags and leave Philadelphia for good this offseason. The Union will miss his experience as they lean toward youth — Richie Marquez, Auston Trusty or a free agent option for 2018.

“It’s a hard conversation at the end of the year, but he did everything that Earnie and I could’ve asked of him,” Curtin said. “For the club, with the depth that we have at that position, we decided to move on from him. It’s hard, but at the same time, we wish him success going forward, and we thank him for his contributions to our team.”

Left back Fabinho
Despite beating out Giliano Wijnaldum to round out the 2017 season, Fabinho’s contract has run out for 2018. But similar to Ilinsho and Herbers, the Union seem to want him back. 

“Left backs and left-center backs are like dinosaurs,” Stewart said. “You don’t see too many of them. To have a good left back and I still consider Fabi, as a left back in the league — we have this rating system of ours where he still rates very high. I think that answers the question.”

But even if Fabinho doesn’t return as a player, the club is interested in him sticking with the organization.

“I think Fabi is part of this family,” Stewart said. “To make those promises now is a little bit too early, I think it’s too early in his career to do that. But at the same time I do think that when it comes to a person that belongs to that club, he’s one of those players.”

Left back Giliano Wijnaldum
The Union’s other left back showed flashes of his potential in 13 games with the club but couldn’t gain a foothold. Between his brutal inconsistency, salary and homesickness, Stewart announced that Wijnaldum will not return. 

“For the number that we had in his contract, for the option year, it was not enough,” Stewart said. “He also had some, I almost want to say family issues, missing his kids. It was a good time to part ways.”

With two left backs now off the roster, Ray Gaddis, who can play both sides, remains the only player able to absorb that role. However, the Union do have Matt Real, a Drexel Hill native and Bethlehem Steel player waiting in the wings.

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."

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

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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.