Union

Inside Doop: Don't look now but the Union are suddenly surging

Inside Doop: Don't look now but the Union are suddenly surging

Wait, who are these guys?

For the second straight game, the suddenly resurgent Union obliterated a rival, rolling to a 4-0 road rout of D.C. United a week after walloping the New York Red Bulls, 3-0.

Before that, you might recall, the Union were winless in a whopping 15 straight games dating back to last season. So what changed? And can the Union continue to streak in this direction? Let’s take a look in this week’s Inside Doop.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. The only thing more unlikely than the Union's winning 4-0 was four different players scoring their first goals of the season — and three of them scoring the first goals of their MLS careers. But it may not have been surprising to sporting director Earnie Stewart and head coach Jim Curtin, who have insisted there is quality depth up and down the roster. Perhaps they have a point. Fafa Picault and Fabian Herbers, two wingers who have battled for minutes, scored terrific goals; Oguchi Onyewu, who had lost his place in the starting lineup as recently as two weeks ago, scored his first goal of any kind since 2014; and Haris Medunjanin, a deep-lying midfielder who specializes in passing, opened his own MLS account with a rocket from distance. If the Union can continue to get this kind of offensive production from wingers, defenders and defensive midfielders to help out top scorer C.J. Sapong and others, they’ll continue their charge up the Eastern Conference table.

2. Speaking of Onyewu, it was quite the way to ring in his 35th birthday as his nice header that found the back of the net helped the Union begin to run away from 10-man D.C. United. Perhaps more importantly, he had another good game anchoring a backline that also features rookie Jack Elliott and fullbacks Ray Gaddis and Fabinho as the Union picked up their third straight shutout, matching a club record. Considering Richie Marquez and Keegan Rosenberry — their two top defenders last season and probably two of the most important pieces for the club’s future — were on the bench, the shutout streak is a surprising one. But even if Marquez and Rosenberry — and another potential rising star in Joshua Yaro — eventually make their way back into the lineup, veterans Gaddis and Onyewu deserve a lot of credit for steadying a leaking ship and Elliott for not playing anything like a rookie.

3. As good a night as Onyewu had, no one was better than Medunjanin, who shredded through D.C. United even before they went down a man and added two assists on top of his goal. The Bosnian World Cup veteran had shown glimpses of potential before but had yet to put together a complete game like this since arriving in Philly in the offseason. And while the Union will still have questions behind him and in front of him, the partnership of Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya in the defensive midfield may yet turn out to be one of the league’s best.

Three questions about the week ahead
1. Don’t look now but the Union, once on the verge of a historic winless streak, can finish the week with a not-too-shabby 4-4-4 record, which would put them right back in the thick of a playoff race. More than anything else, that shows the parity that exists in MLS, as well as the fact that too many teams probably make the postseason. Regardless, if the Union can win two straight home games — against surging Houston on Wednesday and struggling Colorado on Saturday — all the talk of Curtin’s job security will go out the window and the club will suddenly be one of the hottest in the league.

2. Playing three games in eight days is never easy, of course, and all eyes will be on Curtin to see what kind of moves he’ll make to keep guys fresh. He probably won’t want to change the backline considering they’re coming off a shutout, nor will he want to mess with the Bedoya-Medunjanin midfield combo. That leaves the attack, where reserves like Herbers and Jay Simpson could make a claim to start one of the two games. And then there’s the question about who starts as the attacking midfielder, which we’ll get to below ...

3. With Roland Alberg out injured last week, Curtin made the somewhat surprising decision to start Ilsinho at the No. 10. attacking midfield spot. And the crafty Brazilian, to his credit, was on the ball a lot and made some nice plays to kickstart the attack. Considering the Union are looking strong on the wing with Herbers, Picault and Chris Pontius, could Ilsinho remain in a more central role, perhaps in a platoon with Roland Alberg? Or will Curtin use this week as an opportunity to throw rookie Adam Najem, who he called a “true No. 10” last week, into the fire? The third option of signing a big-name No. 10 this summer may be the best one, but let’s not rain on the Union’s parade too much right now.

Stat of the week
Saturday marked the first time the Union have had three players score their first MLS goal in the same game.

Quote of the week
“When I saw it go in the back of the net, just emotions took over me. At first I think I was calm, and then it just hit me. And I was like, ‘Alright, let me just run around like a little boy, like I was back to being 23.’” — Union defender Oguchi Onyewu

Player of the week
A lot of guys played well but Medunjanin, whom Curtin called “the best passer” he’s ever been around, is still an easy choice.

Union believe they found their missing piece

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USA Today Images

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 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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USA Today Images

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.”