Union

Inside Doop: Fighting for points on a brutal road trip

Inside Doop: Fighting for points on a brutal road trip

Over the past few days, the Union embarked on their toughest road trip of the season, if not ever.

And although they didn’t get at least one win like they craved, they did come home with a very respectable pair of points following two hard-fought draws to remain in first place in the Eastern Conference.

What did we learn about the team as they played in the heat of Orlando and the altitude of Colorado this past week? And what can we expect with one more game coming up before the league’s two-week Copa America Centenario break? Here’s a look in this week’s Inside Doop:

Three thoughts about this past week
1. Each of the two draws left the team with different taste in their mouths as the Union felt robbed by the refs in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Orlando City SC — particularly on a non-penalty call and also Orlando’s two semi-controversial goals — but grateful to escape with a point in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids in a game they were mostly outplayed. Still, despite those very different feelings, the Union fought back from a second-half deficit to surprise the home crowd with a tying goal in both. It can’t be said enough how this is different than past Union teams, most of which never would have come from behind in hostile environments like these.

2. While there were plenty of crazy things to happen in the second half of Wednesday’s game, it all paled into comparison to what transpired in stoppage time Saturday. That’s when, with the Union trailing by a goal, defensive midfielder Brian Carroll scored for the first time in nearly three years — with his left foot, no less — to tie the game and cause Colorado to drop points at home for the only time this season. Perhaps equally impressive, Carroll ended up playing all 90 minutes in both Orlando and Colorado — and still found the energy to make a late run into the box to score the equalizer. That’s an exhausting stretch for anyone, let alone a 34-year-old veteran who was initially signed for this season just to provide depth.

3. What a week for Ken Tribbett. Taken on the road trip mostly for precautionary measures, the rookie center back ended up scoring his first MLS goal and bagging his first MLS assist in Orlando after coming on for Josh Yaro, who dislocated his shoulder. Tribbett then got to start against Colorado, helping to limit the Rapids to just two shots on target while playing in front of 30 family members in the state which he grew up. Head coach Jim Curtin may not have made as many lineup changes as some expected in the two games this week but Tribbett and Ray Gaddis — who spelled Fabinho at left back and got a secondary assist on the tying goal in Colorado — are giving the team some excellent defensive depth.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The biggest question heading into Wednesday’s home game against Columbus (7 p.m., TCN) is who will man the goal, as starter Andre Blake has left to join Jamaica for Copa America Centenario. Curtin said recently it’s basically a toss-up between backups John McCarthy and Matt Jones. McCarthy started 11 league games for Philly last season and provided the club with some memorable moments, but Jones had a good pedigree in Portugal before coming to Philly this year. Either way, the Union will be glad to only lose Blake for one game, barring a deeper run for Jamaica than most expect (although the way Blake has been playing this year, some Copa upsets for the Reggae Boyz may be possible).

2. With the exception of captain Maurice Edu’s long-term stress fracture, the Union have been pretty healthy of late. That changed when Yaro dislocated his shoulder, but Philly is fortunate enough to have a player like Tribbett — who started the first five games before an injury of his own — to fill in for him. Considering the Union are off for two weeks after Wednesday’s game, it seems likely they’ll keep Tribbett in the lineup so Yaro has more time to heal. A bigger question may be whether Yaro returns to the starting role following the Copa break if Tribbett has another strong game. 

3. Will the Union’s streak of unlikely goal scorers continue? Before Tribbett scored his first career goal and Carroll followed with his first since 2013, it was center back Richie Marquez opening his MLS account to lift Philly to a 1-0 win over D.C. United on May 20. And earlier in the month, right back Keegan Rosenberry scored a big goal to lift Philly to a come-from-behind point over the L.A. Galaxy. If you would have told most people that three defenders and Carroll would score this season, they might not believe you. The fact it all happened this month makes it even crazier — and, of course, a great thing to ease some of the scoring burden off striker C.J. Sapong and the rest of the attackers.

Quote of the week
“I’m happy for the resilience that my group showed. It’s difficult to go on the road to Orlando with the turf and the heat and then coming here to altitude and get points in both places shows a lot of character and grit.”

-- Union head coach Jim Curtin

Stat of the week
Through 13 games, 14 different Union players already have at least one goal or one assist this season. To compare, that’s only two fewer than all of last season, the same number as the entire 2013 campaign and three more than in 2010. 

Player of the week
Teaming up with Warren Creavalle in the defensive midfield, Carroll did a good job against Kaka on Wednesday. And although he could have done better to prevent Colorado’s goal, his equalizer more than made up for it.

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.”