Philadelphia Union's offseason move for David Accam gave the club speed on both wings, and the acquisition of Borek Dockal provided a mechanism to get the ball to Accam and Fafa Picault in space. But Picault's suspension to open the season and Accam's struggles getting off the starting line meant that wide attacking role -- one that had been targeted for improvement -- was in flux from the very beginning of the year.
Jim Curtin had touted the team's depth, though, and in Marcus Epps he had a weapon that could attack in behind a back line or occupy multiple defenders with confident footwork. For Epps, then, the aim was to force defenses to respect that enviable skill set.
At times, he did. Epps' inclusion in the first eleven coincided with the first major shift in the winds of the Union's season. A road match at Montreal in May became a must-win after a stuttering start to the year, and Epps put in a 75 minute shift that included a lot of defensive work after Cory Burke's red card. He followed that up with an eyebrow-raising performance against Real Salt Lake in which the Mississippi-born attacker shrugged off defenders, found space for his shot, and finished with a goal and two assists. In a trip up I-95 to New Jersey, he was the Union's most dangerous attacker against the best defense in MLS, and only strong goalkeeping kept him from breaking the match open as he repeatedly broke the eventual Supporters' Shield winners' high back line.
After that strong run of form, though, Epps began playing further from goal and, as a result, struggled to emerge as the type of threat that could force opposition coaches to hesitate when looking to throw bodies forward. After recording three shots against Red Bulls, Epps only notched three more all season in five starts and eight appearances.
Still, the end of Epps' run in the side turned out to be less about him than about changing the nature of the Union's attack. Cory Burke's emergence up front provided an opportunity to move CJ Sapong out wide. This gave the Union a mix of speed and power up top, and Sapong allowed Philly to play over the top of compact midfields in a way that no other wing option could.
Epps still has space to grow before he reaches anything like his ceiling, but he will need to continue adding consistency to his finishing and defensive movements. There could still be more to come from Marcus Epps, and figuring out how to make an impact as a substitute is the first step toward returning to the first eleven.