Union select two college players in MLS draft

UNION14 Marcus Epps
The Union selected University of South Florida forward Marcus Epps as the No. 25th pick in Friday's MLS draft.

Without a first-round pick, the Union began their wheeling and dealing early in the second round in the Major League Soccer draft in Los Angeles on Friday.

Originally armed with the 33rd and 42nd pick of the second round, the Union moved up to the No. 3 pick of the round, 25th overall, and selected South Florida midfielder Marcus Epps.

The Union sent the No. 42 overall pick in the draft and $50,000 in general allocation money to apply to the 2018 budget to Minnesota for the 25th selection.

Then with the 33rd pick, the Union selected defender Aaron Jones, who played the last two seasons at Clemson after beginning his career at Georgia State.

The draft concludes with rounds three and four on Tuesday. The Union will have the 55th overall pick in the third round and two fourth-round selections, No. 77 and 82.

The 6-foot, 155-pound Epps started 53 games in his four-year college career. A native of Jackson Miss., Epps, 22, had three goals and three assists in 14 games this past season. He missed six games last season with a knee injury and played most of the season at less than 100 percent by his own admission.

Epps was a late addition to the MLS Combine, where he reportedly played extremely well.

"I feel that [playing well at the Combine] played a pretty good role in my selection in the draft," Epps said during a conference call with reporters "I don't think many people knew me [because] I got selected late for the Combine."

The Union obviously knew of him.

"At one point, we didn't want to wait longer because we thought Marcus would go sooner," Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. "We made sure we were ready to do a deal and make sure we creep up the board and move up and get him."

The Union project him to play an outside midfield position where Epps can take advantage of his athletic ability.

"We see him as a wide player and a guy who can go by the first defender and beat him one-on-one," Union coach Jim Curtin said. "We felt his speed was something our roster could use more of."

With the 33rd selection, the Union picked the 22-year-old Jones, from Great Yarmouth, England. This past season the 5-9, 160-pound Jones had three goals and four assists in 22 games.

He is projected to play right back, which means there will be the stiffest of competition with Keegan Rosenberry, who made the MLS all-star team as a rookie and is currently at the U.S. national team camp.

"The Keegan question has already come up quite a lot and I can't wait to get there and meet him, and I am extremely proud at all he achieved and that is what I hope to emulate and move forward," Jones said. "I want to push him and try to play as many games as I can next year."

Curtin said Jones might be able to also play in the midfield, but his best spot is right back and that is where the Union project him.

Elsewhere in the draft, UCLA forward Abu Danladi was selected first overall by expansion Minnesota United. Syracuse defender Miles Robinson went second to expansion Atlanta.

New York City FC moved up to third, trading $250,000 in general allocation money to the Chicago Fire and selected Akron forward Jonathan Lewis.

A player who many projected at No. 1, Jeremy Ebobisse, who played two seasons at Duke and appeared in six games this with the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer League during the fall, was selected fourth by the Portland Timbers.

Portland moved up to the fourth spot by sending the Houston Dynamo $100,000 of general allocation money, one international roster spot and the 10th overall pick, which the Dynamo used to select Hofstra midfielder Joseph Holland.

The Union traded their first-round pick to Chicago for the allocation spot they used to sign Alejandro Bedoya. The Fire chose Louisville midfielder Daniel Johnson with that pick at No. 11.

Defender Jakob Nerwinski, a product of Notre Dame High in his hometown of Lawrenceville, N.J., and the University of Connecticut, was selected seventh overall by the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Two picks after the Union chose Epps, the Fire selected University of Delaware forward Guillermo Delgado with the 27th overall selection. One pick after the Union selected Jones, D.C. United selected Monmouth University keeper Eric Klenofsky 34th overall.

A second University of Delaware player was selected when Minnesota, using the 42nd overall pick obtained from the Union, took Blue Hens midfielder Thomas de Villardi.

Temple forward/midfielder Jorge Gomez Sanchez, looking to be the first player from the school selected in the MLS draft, was not taken in the first two rounds.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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