Union

Inside Doop: Questions mount as Union's road woes deepen

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Inside Doop: Questions mount as Union's road woes deepen

The Union know, that to have any shot of sneaking into the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to pick off points on the road, especially against some of the league’s lower-tier teams.

Consider Saturday a lost opportunity, then.

After earning a good 3-0 home win over Columbus on Wednesday, the Union couldn’t keep it going with a disappointing 3-0 setback in New England over the weekend.

Here’s a closer look at the past week and what lies ahead for the Union as their playoff hopes grow dimmer.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. The Union had dominated the Revolution of late, winning their last three matchups by a combined score of 11-0 heading into Saturday’s game, including a 3-0 home win earlier in the month. But the Union’s road struggles were too much to overcome in this one as they fell to 1-7-3 away from home this season. And it’s not just that the Union are losing on the road; they often look punchless in the attack and lacking any sort of ideas. It’s a far cry from how they play at home, where they’re a healthy 6-3-2 and have generated some fun and exciting moments along the way.

2. It was another eventful week for Roland Alberg, who got into an argument with C.J. Sapong over who would take a penalty kick in Wednesday’s win a week after expressing displeasure at Fafa Picault on the field and getting suspended for a dangerous tackle. And while the Union downplayed the whole scene afterward, many wondered what kind of teammate Alberg might be. There’s no way to know for sure about his status in the locker room, but it is fair to say that his chemistry on the field, particularly with Sapong, has been lacking. So has his production as Alberg failed to impose his will on Saturday’s game from the vital No. 10 spot — a position that continues to be the team’s most glaring need, either now or in the offseason.

3. The good news for the Union’s future is that two of their 2017 draft picks — Marcus Epps and Jack Elliott — enjoyed good weeks with Epps scoring his first career goal Wednesday and Elliott making a phenomenal goal-line clearance, among other great defensive plays, Saturday. Considering both were picked after the first round, that’s some good bang for the Union’s buck. Of course, it makes sense why Philly fans may temper their expectations here considering the standout trio from the 2016 draft class — Joshua Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers — followed promising rookie campaigns by being benched (either because of injury or inconsistent play) for most of 2017.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. After a brutal four-game-in-11-days stretch, the Union finally get a full week to prepare for their next one. Even more good news is that they get to play at home. The bad news is that the opponent is FC Dallas, one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Is it too soon to classify it as a “must win?” Perhaps. But considering how poor they’ve been on the road and how difficult their remaining schedule is, they really can’t afford to lose or draw at Talen Energy Stadium at this point in the season.

2. Will Andre Blake return? The star goalkeeper has now missed five straight Union games due to the Gold Cup and a hand injury he suffered in the Gold Cup final. And while backup John McCarthy has played well in his absence, it’s probably not a coincidence the Union are 1-3-1 in that stretch, given Blake’s unique ability to win his team points. There’s no sense rushing him back if he’s not ready, but Blake returning to face an excellent FC Dallas attack in front of the Sons of Ben would provide a nice bolt of energy to a fan base that certainly needs one right now.

3. Remember Rosenberry? The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up was supplanted as the team’s starting right back in April after playing every minute in 2016. And even the Union playing four games in 11 days wasn’t enough for head coach Jim Curtin to give Rosenberry any minutes over the past two weeks. Considering the second-year right back also isn’t getting time for affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, it’s fair to wonder how these past few months may or may not stall his development — and whether he still remains as big of a piece to the club’s future as he seemed to be last year.

Stat of the week
In four road games in July — three losses and a draw — the Union finished with a combined eight shots on target.

Quote of the week
“For me, I think he’s been the Rookie of the Year.”

— Union head coach Jim Curtin on Jack Elliott after Saturday’s game.

Player of the week
Although he was kept off the scoresheet in New England, Sapong’s performance Wednesday was one of the best of any Union player this season as he scored his record 10th goal and added two fantastic assists.

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.”