Union

Inside Doop: Union still searching for first win of season

Inside Doop: Union still searching for first win of season

Nothing like playing the Union to get your season kickstarted.

After failing to score through the first three games of the 2017 season, D.C. United capitalized on what head coach Jim Curtin called "two self-inflicted errors" to score twice and hold off the Union for a 2-1 win Saturday at RFK Stadium.

In this week's Inside Doop, we'll take a closer look at the game and what lies ahead for the Union, who return home still seeking their first win of the year.

Three thoughts about Saturday's game
1. It was not the best first half for the Union's defense. D.C. striker Jose Guillermo Ortiz, in for the injured Patrick Mullins, scored their first goal after a silly giveaway from Fabinho and a shot that appeared to ricochet off Oguchi Onyewu. And the second goal came on a Luciano Acosta penalty kick after Richie Marquez was whistled for a questionable hand ball just inside the box. Marquez, who ranked third in the league in minutes played last year, then came out at halftime with a head injury, which only added to his rough night and led to a daunting debut for rookie Jack Elliott. A center back pairing of Onyewu and Elliott was certainly not something anyone could have predicted in the preseason, and at this point, many Union fans are probably clamoring for the quick return of Joshua Yaro to add a much-needed boost to the beleaguered backline.

2. Don't tell C.J. Sapong that his role has been diminished. Despite being turned into a reserve this year after two seasons as Philly's starting striker, Sapong has been the team’s hottest player, scoring three goals in as many games after netting the team's only goal Saturday less than 10 minutes after coming in. And he could have very well added a second if not for a sparkling save from D.C. goalie Bill Hamid. At this point, you have to wonder if Sapong will get back his starting job over Jay Simpson -- who struggled to get involved in his first game back from a ribs injury -- or if Curtin prefers the spark that Sapong brings off the bench.

3. To be fair to the Union, they did dominate parts of the game and won almost all of the major statistical categories, including possession (57.4 percent-42.6 percent), shots on goal (9-3) and passing accuracy (80 percent-73 percent). And while that will do little to appease fans who are used to seeing this franchise make untimely mistakes to blow games, it does perhaps show that the Union do have the ability to go on a run once they get out of their own heads and into the win column.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union are coming home at just the right time. After playing three of their first four on the road, their next three will be at Talen Energy Stadium. But getting their first win still won’t be easy as they meet one of the league's top teams in the Portland Timbers on Saturday before then facing star-studded New York City FC and the Montreal Impact. It's still too early to call anything a must-win or say head coach Jim Curtin is on the hot seat. But if they fail to get more than one or two points over their next three games, might his seat get a little bit warmer?

2. The health of Richie Marquez will be a major concern heading into a matchup with a dynamic Timbers team that leads the league in goals scored. With Yaro already hurt, that means the center back pairing could be a player who, until last month, was out of pro soccer for over a year (Onyewu) and a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft (Elliott). That could be a recipe for disaster against a very dangerous Portland attack.

3. One of the big questions circulating around the Union right now is of the play of Alejandro Bedoya, their star and captain. It's no secret the team hasn't won too many games since Bedoya came on board last summer and that he hasn't really been "the guy" that the Union need him to be. It also remains to be seen if the No. 10 position is his best spot on the field. Will Curtin consider moving him into more of a box-to-box role while unleashing perhaps their one true attacking midfielder in Roland Alberg, who’s played a grand total of 15 minutes this season?

Stat of the week
Including the playoffs, the Union haven't won in their last 12 games dating back to last season. Their last victory was a 2-0 home triumph over Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 27.

Quote of the week
"I know this group. The performances are not indicative of the point total that we are on right now." -- Union head coach Jim Curtin

Player of the week
Sapong only played 31 minutes but, along with fellow second-half sub Elliott, proved to be a major bright spot for the Union.

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.”