Four weeks away from the 2018 season opener and the Union roster has pretty much been finalized, sans for a new number 10 if we’re lucky. The Union are deeper at winger this season than they’ve been in quite a while and their starting duo could be the best combo they’ve ever fielded to start a campaign. Here’s a look at the Union’s 2018 wingers
We have to start with the newest member of the club and their highest profile signing since Alejandro Bedoya in early 2016. Accam had more shots on goal (36) than any member of the Union last season. Granted, he had much better service on a high-scoring Chicago club, but much of his career best 14 goal, 8 assist season was due to his talent and speed on the pitch. He will no doubt be on the right-wing vs. New England on March 3.
One of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season was Fafa Picault. Although he had only 7 goals and 3 assists in 2017, he didn’t become a regular starter until a third of the season had passed. He can get over-zealous and out-run his own dribbles, but he’s proven to be a solid shooter when he is under control and a speedy pest defenders have to pay attention to. Like, Accam he’s had a long road.
Born in New York City, playing youth league in Italy, USL with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the defunct Fort Lauderdale Strikers, then back to Europe for AC Sparta Prague and lastly FC St. Pauli in the Bundesliga second tier, Fafa has found a home with the Union and hopefully this will be it for his career travels. Look for him to start on the left-wing.
The Remaining Winger Depth Chart
Selected 6th overall by the Union in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Fabian Herbers had a solid rookie campaign, tallying 3 goals and 7 assists in 32 games, including 13 starting opportunities. Last season his playing time was limited due to injury but he’s expected back at 100% to start 2018.
Herbers is an interesting discussion in that I think he should have been the starter on the right-wing, had it not been for the Accam signing. In his two seasons with the Union, Herbers has shown a knack for striking the ball with pace in the box and is probably one of the best they have when it comes to crossing a pass to teammates in the box when he plays wide right. As I referenced in my striker preview, Herbers has the skill set to flourish at striker as well, making him a very valuable cog in the Union machine.
He has the size and athleticism to battle defenders for possession and demonstrated a fight for the ball last season. Unfortunately, Epps also appeared gun-shy during too many moments when it was clear he should have taken the shot. Playing just over 700 minutes last season, you wouldn’t expect gaudy scoring numbers… he had 2 goals and 1 assist.
A bigger reason for his low numbers was a failure to pull the trigger when necessary. Compared to C.J. Sapong who tallied a shot on goal (SOG) every 82 minutes of play and Picault with a SOG every 86 minutes of play, Epps rarely came out of his shell mustering only 1 SOG every 141 minutes on the pitch. Playing on the wing in an attacking position, that is unacceptable. Hopefully he takes his mental reigns off in 2018.
Oh the mystery of Ilsinho. Sometimes you look so good, while other times… well. There have been as many ooh’s and ahh’s at Talen Energy Stadium responding to his nifty dribbling and passing, as much as heads shaking in disappointment watching him try to dribble through three defenders and turning the ball over yet again.
Ilsinho’s value comes in that he can play both on the wing and at attacking midfield. Beginning his professional career in Brazil 12 years ago, he has a lot of miles on those legs. His 205-210 pound playing weight also needs to be trimmed down by 10-15 lbs for him to raise his level of play in MLS. Too often he plays a few steps behind after the 60th and simply can’t keep up.
The Union welcome back Eric Ayuk in 2018. It’s hard to believe it was three years ago when he started over a third of the Union’s matches. He has a flair for the dramatic. My favorite moment was one of his multiple backflip goal celebrations followed by Sebastien Le Toux’s toddler-like gymnastics class forward roll. A classic!
You don’t want to reign in enthusiasm, but too often Ayuk would over-run his own dribbling and turn the ball over at crucial times. The Union and their supporters hope his time with the Bethlehem Steel in 2016 and in the Swedish first division last year has helped his game mature.
starting 2018 wingers
I believe as far as a group, this is the most depth the Union have ever had out on the wings. David Accam and Fafa Picault have the potential to be one of the top scoring duos in the Eastern Conference and there is a good amount of talent behind them should they need a night off. Is it March already?!
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports