A pair of trialists, a former United States National Team center back, and five draft picks got their first taste of the Philadelphia Union with the opening of training camp in Chester on Tuesday.
Speedy winger/forward Fafà Picault and midfielder Adam Najem were among the new faces at training, joining the Union’s five unsigned rookies acquired in the draft: Marcus Epps, Aaron Jones, Chris Nanco, Jack Elliott and Santi Moar. But the big story of the day was the hard to miss presence of a certain 6-foot-4 center back named Oguchi Onyewu, who head coach Jim Curtin said is only with the club on a training stint.
Bethlehem Steel FC players like James Chambers and Academy players like midfielder Anthony Fontana and goalkeepers Tomas Romero and Matthew Freese, were also on hand Tuesday.
Notable absences included the trio away on international duty - Keegan Rosenberry, Chris Pontius and Alejandro Bedoya, and new international signings Jay Simpson and Giliano Wijnaldum, who are awaiting visa paperwork to be cleared.
“They will be here soon, maybe as soon as Thursday, certainly in the very near future,” Curtin said.
Though the first team roster as it stands has five open spots and room for only one international player, both Curtin and Sporting Director Earnie Stewart noted that they are not finished making moves. A holding midfielder, a veteran center back and a third-string goalkeeper are still on the wish list.
“The roster is still fluid and evolving,” Curtin said, noting that there are two rosters to fill with Bethlehem Steel FC entering its second season in USL. Steel FC have ten players signed, but have the flexibility of bringing Academy players and on-loan players from the first team.
Picault, a 25-year-old from 2. Bundesliga club FC St. Pauli, was one of two potential new acquisitions on the field on Tuesday. A New York City native, Picault’s father played for the Philadelphia Fever indoor team in the early ‘80s.
“He has a bounce in his step, a guy that can add some pace to our wide areas and has played up top as a nine too,” Curtin said. “He checks a lot of the boxes as someone we need.”
Najem is a former New York Red Bulls Academy midfielder who starred at Akron for four seasons but has reportedly had his homegrown rights shopped after failing to reach an agreement with the club.
“He’d be in the trialist category,” Curtin said. “There’s different rules in our league that come up, and you know we came across him and we had a good meeting with him, and he’s been in training with us today and showed very well.”
On the Maurice Edu front, Curtin said he is progressing well and will be able to resume running in early February.
“I’m just taking it day to day and recovering,” Edu said, noting that it’s been nine weeks since his surgery from a broken fibula sustained in training in October. “It’s just a gradual progression and obviously I want to get on the field as soon as possible.”
For draftees, Tuesday was their first chance to prove themselves to the Union coaching staff. All five picks are currently unsigned.
Epps, a winger who can play on either side of the field known for his speed and ability to take players on, was upbeat about his first day. The Mississippi native who played college soccer at South Florida and spent time in the Chicago Fire Academy said he was excited to be drafted by a club with a USL team.
“That’s the main thing, to get minutes and an opportunity grow,” Epps said.