Union

Chris Pontius, Keegan Rosenberry ready to make an impression at USMNT camp

Chris Pontius, Keegan Rosenberry ready to make an impression at USMNT camp

Seven years ago, Chris Pontius and Alejandro Bedoya were young players sharing a room together during their first U.S. national team camp.

Since then, Bedoya has become a mainstay on the USMNT, while Pontius fell off the national team radar as he dealt with a rash of injuries.

But in a couple of days, both players will depart for another U.S. national team January camp together, along with their Union teammate Keegan Rosenberry, who got his first call-up.

“It’s awesome,” said Bedoya, who’s made 55 appearances for the USMNT and was a starter at the 2014 World Cup. “I think it’s great for the club. I’m very happy for Chris Pontius to get the call-up because I remember playing with him at my first January camp. Through all this time, he suffered through injuries and mishaps, so to see him fight through all that and have such a great season last year and get a call-up is well deserved and a great achievement for him. 

“And with Keegan, to see a rookie play every minute, I’m very happy for him. He has great potential. … Three [Union] players representing the U.S. national team is something to be proud of and I’m looking forward to playing with them.”

Considering that Rosenberry was the MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2016 while Pontius scored 12 goals in his first season in Philly, it’s not a huge surprise both got the call from U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, especially because the January camp is traditionally a time to look at new MLS players (since the USMNT players who play overseas are in the middle of their seasons).

But both are looking for a lot more than just exposure and are hoping to impress Arena (who none of them know particularly well) and use the camp as a springboard to earn their first-ever appearances in a USMNT game.

The U.S. plays Serbia in a friendly Jan. 29 and Jamaica five days later, before World Cup qualifying resumes in March in the first games since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Arena.

“It’s still a lot of hard work,” Pontius said. “It’s not a guarantee just getting called into the camp. There’s a lot of hard work ahead, and I’ve got to play well to prove myself.”

If anyone knows that nothing is guaranteed it's Pontius, who last got a U.S. call-up in 2012, but couldn’t go because of an injury. That’s been something of a theme for the 29-year-old winger, who looked to be one of the best American prospects in 2012 before injuries slowed his career progression.

But now that he’s healthy and enjoyed a breakout season in Philly in 2016, he feels more ready than ever to show what he can do at the international level.

“I’m less nervous, certainly,” he said. “I was very, very nervous in those first few camps and I think I’m a more confident player and more confident in my capabilities and know how to go about these camps in a different way. I think that just comes with eight-plus years of playing now as a pro. Learn your body, learn how to deal with these camps. It’s kind of like going into preseason. Like a rookie, it’s like going into camp and trying to impress.”

Rosenberry certainly knows what it’s like to impress as a rookie, locking down Philly’s right back spot after a strong preseason and leading MLS in minutes played in his first season. But going into this camp, which opens Tuesday in Carson, California and features 32 MLS players, he’s trying his best to act more like a seasoned veteran than a wide-eyed rookie — even if that means not asking too many questions to Bedoya and Pontius.

“I think when I get out there, I’ll talk to those guys a little bit,” Rosenberry said. “You don’t want to seem like too much of a young guy. You don’t want to show your ignorance, if you will. You try and play it cool as best you can until you get out there. I’m looking forward to seeing those guys.”

For what it’s worth, Pontius doesn’t think he needs much guidance.

“He doesn’t act like a rookie,” Pontius said. “He doesn’t approach things like a rookie. He’s a pretty bright kid, and if he has any questions, I’m there for him. But I’m sure Keegan will perform well.”

Still, for all three Union players, it’s fair to say that going with a couple of teammates should only make a great experience even better.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” Rosenberry said. “Having a couple of teammates out there just means the world.” 

“I was ecstatic to get called back in,” Pontius added. “If anyone isn’t striving to be on the national team, then I think there’s something wrong with that. As an American player, that’s the ultimate prize for us.”

Union believe they found their missing piece

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Union believe they found their missing piece

David Accam is a dream come true for the Union.

“At the end of the season, we talked about adding players and David was at the top of our list,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “I didn’t think that would be a real option. When it comes along, it’s incredible.”

Shocking as it was for Stewart, the Union pulled 27-year-old Accam from the Chicago Fire for allocation money at the 2018 MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 19. With his ability to create one-on-one opportunities and punish teams on the counter-attack, Accam, who had 14 goals and eight assists last season, is a perfect fit in the Union’s 4-2-3-1 system, and the exact type of “difference-maker” the team was looking for.

“David is known in the league for his speed, but when we scouted him we noted just how good he is on the ball,” Union manager Jim Curtin said Tuesday at the official introduction of Accam at Talen Energy Stadium. “The space he creates for others because he is so dangerous. When he gets one-on-one, his quality will take over games and it’ll create a lot of space for the rest of our players.”

From Accam’s perspective, he’s joining an established attacking group. Specifically mentioning Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong and winger Fafa Picault, Accam expects to have space to work.

“We have enough quality on this team already,” he said. “I just have to do my part.”

On top of his offensive acumen, Accam knows MLS. What attracted the Union to the speedster is not only his skill but his familiarity with the league. Unlike European players that take time to adjust to the climate, travel and style of play, Accam should make an instant impact on the Union.

“He’s been now, for multiple years, a top attacking player in our league,” Curtin said. “He’s got the statistics to back it up. The fact that he has a familiarity with the league, he knows the defenders will be grabbing and kicking him for 90 minutes, and that matters a great deal. It makes the transition more seamless. 

“He’s a great fit for us.”

But snagging that perfect fit wasn’t free. Acquired in one of the largest trades in Union history, the attacker was moved by the Fire in exchange for $1.2 million in combined allocation money. According to Stewart, the speedster, who was ripe for a new deal, signed an extension with the Fire before the team moved him to Philadelphia.

“Our understanding is that David has an obligation now with the Union through 2020,” Stewart said.

Despite scratching out a significant name off their wishlist, the Union aren’t quite done adding players, with the expectation that they bring in a playmaking midfielder. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be going on a shopping spree.

“I think we are in a better place than we were last year with the acquisition of David,” Stewart said. “There will be a little more happening but not much more because I believe the foundation is solid. With the acquisition of David and one more player in the near future, we’ll be in good shape to compete for the playoffs.”

Union acquire electrifying winger in major trade

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Union acquire electrifying winger in major trade

The Philadelphia Union didn’t make a pick in the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft on Friday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

But the hometown team still made one of the biggest splashes of the day.

Between the first and second rounds, Paul Tenorio of ESPN FC reported that the Union had a trade in place for electrifying winger David Accam, sending a palpable buzz through the ballroom. Not long after, the move was officially announced and the Philly fans in attendance finally had something to cheer about after a quiet-to-this-point offseason.

“I know there was some impatience with the timing of things,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “But this is a special player we added — one that changes the whole dynamic of our team.”

The move wasn’t cheap as the Union dealt $1.2 million in allocation money to the Chicago Fire in exchange for the Ghanaian speedster, who’s bagged 33 goals and 15 assists over the last three MLS seasons.

But if he can stay healthy and keep producing at the rate he has been, the Union think it can be a bargain.

“A David Accam on the open market is significantly higher than what we paid today,” Curtin said. “I can tell you with confidence if we shopped around for someone of David’s quality and production, we’d spend a heck of a lot more money than we did today.”

Accam will likely start on one of the wings opposite fellow burner Fafa Picault with leading scorer C.J. Sapong up top. That still leaves a hole in attacking midfield that the Union need to round out their offense — a position which Curtin and sporting director Earnie Stewart said the club is still searching for.

“With Fafa, with Accam, with C.J. Sapong, those guys will create a lot of space for whoever plays in that No. 10 spot during the course of the season,” Curtin said. “That’s something that makes other teams worry. When we get off the bus, you have to account for David Accam. So that’s a real positive.”

Accam has a unique backstory, playing at the Right to Dream Academy from 2004 to 2008 in his native Ghana, before moving to England on a student visa and playing for Ledbury Town and Evesham United. After taking part in “The Chance” competition, a Nike event to find undiscovered soccer talent, he moved to Swedish club Ostersund in 2012 and then to top-flight side Helsingborg later that year.

After starring for both clubs, he was signed by the Fire as a Designated Player and has been a consistent goal-scoring threat in Chicago. Since he came to MLS in 2015, Accam is one of just six MLS players to total at least 33 goals and 15 assists in league play, along with stars Sebastian Giovinco, David Villa, Diego Valeri, Ignacio Piatti and Kei Kamara.

“As we said a while back, we’re trying to find some difference-makers for our team to help us over those humps in certain games,” Stewart said. “We believe a couple of difference-makers can help that. And once David Accam came around, it was really clear to us that was a target that we wanted to make sure happened. And we as the Philadelphia Union made sure we stretched ourselves to make sure this player came aboard. We’re just very pleased that we were able to accomplish this.”

The Union also made a couple of other smaller moves leading up to the draft, signing defenders Matt Real and Mark McKenzie to Homegrown contracts.

Signing both players when they did was a good indication that the Union valued them both as much, if not more, as any guys they may have been able to draft had they not previously dealt away their picks.

And it’s even better that both Real and McKenzie came through the Union Academy and are more familiar with the club than a kid coming out of college would have been.

“Everybody has a different path,” said McKenzie, an 18-year old center back from Bear, Delaware. “All of these guys that got drafted today are great guys. … But myself, coming through the academy and when I was at the pre-academy when I was 11 and 12 and worked my way up to the U-14s to the U-18s to the [Bethlehem] Steel, it’s been an absolute honor and a blessing. I’ve been pushed and challenged at each level, and I’m looking forward to the future and what that holds.”

“It’s a big moment for me,” added Real, an 18-year-old who played for USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC last year. “These last couple of weeks for me have been surreal. I’m still kind of soaking all this in.

“Mark is my brother. Me and him have been playing together since the academy started. We graduated together, we’re on the [U-20] national team together. So this couldn’t be any better for me to share a moment like this with him.”