When he was still in college, Philadelphia Union midfielder Marcus Epps had a chance to test himself against Major League Soccer teams every February.
Now, he’ll get a chance to be on the other side of one of those preseason friendlies when he and the Union take on the University of South Florida Bulls on Tuesday night at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater.
“I was actually down there with some of the guys training with them a few weeks ago so I got a little trash talking in,” Epps said during a recent interview. “It’s going to be a fun one.”
Unlike preseason a year ago when he was playing for a spot on the roster, the second-year winger from Jackson, Mississippi, has had a year to adjust to the pro game, having played in 19 games for the first team and 13 for Bethlehem Steel is in his rookie year. He scored a pair of goals and added an assist for the Union while finding the back of the net once for Steel.
“Last year it was just college and you’re playing three months and then you hop into a year-long season and now getting minutes with the Steel, getting minutes with the first team it kind of builds your foundation even sturdier, you have techniques and skillsets you don’t lose as quickly as you do in college,” he said.
Head coach Jim Curtin said the South Florida match - the second of seven scheduled while the team is in Florida - will be an opportunity for reserve and younger players to test themselves and push beyond the 45-minute threshold fitnesswise.
“South Florida always has a few kids that wind up playing in the pros,” Curtin said. “It’s good for Marcus to see some familiar faces but at the same it’s about work right now, game fitness and the match fitness is critical.”
The Bulls have two players with ties to the Union in academy grads Josue Monge and Fred Gil. Both were regulars in the lineup for the Bulls in 2017. Monge had a couple goals and an assist in 16 appearances and 13 starts in the midfield while Gil made nine appearances and six starts at left back.
”Going against former teammates and friends is going to be amazing and this just gives us another way to get looked at by the Union,” Gil said.
The Bulls played in front of about 1,900 fans at their home field against the Chicago Fire on Saturday night. They also hosted the New York Red Bulls on January 27 and have a game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies scheduled in March.
”It’s different than the academy and college level,“ Gil said of the spring friendlies against MLS opponents. “The experience the MLS teams have make the game so much faster and forces us (college players) to think ahead of what we are going to do with the ball.”
Tonight’s scrimmage is the Union’s second of the preseason. They lost to the Red Bulls, 4-3, on Saturday. The game against the Bulls will not be streamed but will be open to the public. It kicks off at 7 p.m.