Inside Doop: Although winless streak continues, Union get a positive result

Inside Doop: Although winless streak continues, Union get a positive result

If there's such a thing as a good way to extend a winless streak to 16 games, the Union managed to find a way to accomplish it.

Here's a closer look at their scoreless draw with the L.A. Galaxy on Saturday night and what lies ahead as they continue their quest for their first victory since last August:

Three thoughts about Saturday's game
1. Just like their season opener, the Union flew out early for a game on the West Coast, executed a cautious but effective game plan and walked away with a hard-earned point. Sure, there's nothing sexy about a scoreless draw — the same score as the Union's opener vs. Vancouver in their 2017 debut — but grinding out those kinds of points on the opposite coast are actually quite valuable. Of course, it means less if you don't take care of business at home — which the Union have decidedly not done through the first two months of the season.

2. A week after allowing three unanswered goals in a disheartening 3-3 home draw with the Montreal Impact, the Union's backline stayed mostly organized in their first shutout since the opener. The Union did luck out when the Galaxy's Joao Pedro struck both posts on a shot, but the Galaxy finished with only three shots on target despite controlling more than 60 percent of the possession. It was an important performance, particularly from rookie Jack Elliott and Ray Gaddis, both new to the starting lineup in recent weeks. But this team still needs Keegan Rosenberry (who's been benched for the last two weeks) and Josh Yaro (who's been injured) in there for those two guys to turn what feels like a patchwork backline into a potentially good one for this year and beyond.

3. As much as head coach Jim Curtin likes to say the Union are a great team, it's clear to most people that Philly doesn't have the same kind of talent as other teams, particularly with Yaro and Maurice Edu injured. But there are a few spots on the field where they do have an advantage: at goalkeeper with Andre Blake and in the defensive midfield with Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya. Against the Galaxy, Blake did his part with a couple of nice saves to earn the shutout while Medunjanin looked sharp with his passing and confident with some nice runs and shots from distance. If the Union want to get out of their rut, they'll need the closest things they have to stars to keep making plays like those.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union will be happy to return home this weekend — but that happiness might not last for long. If they don't put forth a good effort on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., TCN) after an 0-2-2 start at Talen Energy Stadium, things could get ugly in the crowd, especially when you consider the Red Bulls are the team Philly fans hate most. Will the Union be able to rise to the occasion and knock off their fiercest rival for their first win of 2017? Or will the weight of the winless streak continue to mess with their heads?

2. When Curtin benched Rosenberry against the Impact and spoke of how Rosenberry needed a spark, it seemed like it would be a short-term thing. But now that Rosenberry was benched for a second straight game over the weekend and the Union earned a shutout without him, could it last longer? Gaddis had a decent game against the Galaxy but did get beat by Emmanuel Boateng on at least one play that could have resulted in a goal. And if Rosenberry — who was one of the team's top players as a rookie last year — sits out for longer, is it possible the lineup move ends up being counterproductive in terms of his own confidence?

3. Another lineup move Curtin made over the weekend was inserting Fafa Picault on the wing in place of Ilsinho. That spot has been in flux this year with Herbers starting the first three games before giving way to Ilsinho, whose dynamic one-on-one skills failed to yield any goals or assists in four starts. All bring different skill sets with Picault best suited to use his speed to get behind fullbacks. It might become a situation where Curtin creates some sort of platoon, leading to the question: Who starts on the wing opposite Chris Pontius against the Red Bulls?

Stat of the week
The Union's 16 straight games without a win is tied for the third-longest streak in MLS history. The longest is 18 — held by the Colorado Rapids (July 30, 2014 to April 4, 2015) and Real Salt Lake (Aug. 10, 2005 to May 6, 2006).

Quote of the week
"We still haven't won, but the last two games we haven't lost. So there are still positives, and we've just got to keep going. Once we can start stopping teams from scoring goals against us, we're going to get our chances and we're going to get our wins."  

Union goalkeeper Andre Blake

Player of the week
In just his third career start, rookie center Jack Elliott did a fine job neutralizing the Galaxy's star-studded play and made a great defensive play in the final minute to clear away danger and preserve the shutout.

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 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 than 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 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.”

Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

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Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

Updated 4:52 p.m.

Andre Blake will backstop the Union into the future.

The 27-year-old goalkeeper inked a multi-year extension Wednesday. The deal is expected to make Blake one of the highest paid goalkeepers in MLS and was completed using Targeted Allocation Money. 

Further details were not released.

“I am ready to lead,” Blake said. “I’ll definitely try to lead by my performance on the field and the way I carry myself off the field.”

While the extension was a no-brainer for the Union’s on-field success, the move was also an important one off the field. Historically, the club is known for its roster turnover and lack of continuity. Keeping Blake on the books for years to come gives the Union a well-respected face of the franchise that fans can appreciate. 

“It is a priority for us to build and secure the foundation of the Philadelphia Union, and Andre is as big a part of that foundation as any player,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “Ensuring he will be here for years to come is an important step for our club. We’re delighted to sign him to a new multi-year contract and would like to thank him for his dedication and hard work.”

Blake, a former first-overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and 2016 MLS All-Star, earned the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honor and claimed the runner-up spot for the award in 2017. He has proven himself to be one of the most exciting and productive goalkeepers in MLS, with 220 saves and 17 shutouts over 65 career matches.

Because of that success, and his heroics, while captaining the Jamaican National Team, Blake is viewed as someone who could transition to a European club. But despite the prospects and rumors, the Union claim there has never been a serious offer for the goalkeeper, making this extension a possibility.

“Right now my main focus is Philadelphia,” said Blake, who has never shied away from his interest in a European move. “I’m not worried about the future. I’m gonna live in the now and continue to work hard and make my performance speak for itself.”