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New York Red Bulls claim Marcus Epps in 2018 MLS Waiver Draft

RBNY has a new player on the roster, and a new-found interest in the MLS Waiver Draft.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls broke with longstanding tradition and made a selection in the MLS Waiver Draft. Indeed, apparently once the club had decided it wasn’t going to make its time-honored “pass” contribution to the Waiver Draft, it got positively giddy and traded away a draft pick for the privilege of making the first pick.

Sporting Director Denis Hamlett pitched San Jose Earthquakes the Red Bulls’ second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft in exchange for the right to walk to the front of the Waiver Draft line and pick Marcus Epps.

The move was a surprise to many, but not to MSG’s Red Bulls Insider, Kristian Dyer:

Epps was the 25th overall pick of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft - which was the first time a team in MLS traded itself into position to claim his playing rights. Philadelphia Union gave Minnesota United $50,000 in allocation money and the 42nd overall pick in the 2017 draft to put itself in position to select Epps.

For the past two seasons, Epps has bounced between the first team and the reserves with the Union, accumulating 32 appearances in MLS and 25 in USL with Bethlehem Steel. For the first team, he has provided three goals and three assists over the last two league campaigns.

He has also contributed to Philadelphia’s last two US Open Cup campaigns, scoring against Harrisburg in a 3-1 Union win in the 2017 edition, and in a 5-0 win over Richmond Kickers in 2018. He participated in both the Union’s recent USOC clashes with RBNY: he was a second-half sub in both the 2017 game that the Red Bulls won on penalties (Epps was one of the Union’s spot-kickers, and he converted his shot) and the 2018 match that saw the Union win, 2-1.

Our friends at The Brotherly Game note Epps appeared to fall out of favor in Philadelphia toward the end of this season: his playing time for both the Union and the Steel dried up at the back-end of the teams’ 2018 campaigns.

His contract option for 2019 was not renewed, which is why he was available in the Waiver Draft. The MLS Players Association salary report put Epps’ 2018 compensation at $55,654.20: the league’s minimum wage, in effect. By claiming Epps in the Waiver Draft, RBNY is required to make him a “Genuine Offer” - which basically means one in the ballpark of what he was earning in 2018 or would have been earning in 2019. In essence, the Red Bulls have asserted the right to take Epps more or less on the terms the Union rejected when they declined his option.

What else do we know about Epps? He is repped by RBNY agent-of-choice (it seems), Damani Ralph.

And he likes pepperoni pizza - a finding owed to the relentless journalistic instincts of OaM’s Twitter account and which this site is therefore claiming as an exclusive:

It’s hard to go wrong in this world with pepperoni pizza. It’s hard to go wrong at RBNY if you have Damani Ralph in your corner. All the best for the season ahead, Marcus. And congrats on getting through your first engagement with the hard edge of OaM’s indefatigable reporting.

RBNY is getting a lightly-used attacking player on paper. The Red Bulls often ask players to convert to positions where their skills are better suited to the club’s RalfBall system, but in his statement regarding the latest addition to the roster, Denis Hamlett indicated RBNY was primarily seeing Epps the same way everyone else sees him: as an attacking player.

Marcus’ qualities fit our philosophy and he gives us another wide attacking option. We look forward to seeing how he can continue to develop within our environment.

Epps will very likely see some time in USL with NYRB II in 2018, assuming he sticks with the club beyond pre-season. But by picking him up in the Waiver Draft, the Red Bulls are adding him to their MLS roster.

Hamlett has been busy in recent days, taking advantage of Orlando City’s ongoing administrative ineptitude to pick up defender Amro Tarek, re-signing key starter Tim Parker to a long-term (by MLS standards) contract, and now adding Epps. He has bolstered depth at both ends of the field, and kept the team’s starting back-line - the best in MLS in 2018 - intact. Not bad work at all for what is effectively the first full week of the off-season.

RBNY has currently has 25 players on first-team roster, if you include Jean-Christophe Koffi, who is expected to land with the team in January. The squad’s most obvious needs remain in defense, where the team currently only has seven specialist players under contract: the 2018 starting back four and three back-ups, in effect. At his current pace, Hamlett will have that matter resolved before the end of this week.