Union

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Looking to roll confidence over for win No. 2

Union-D.C. United 5 things: Looking to roll confidence over for win No. 2

Union at D.C. United
7 p.m. on TCN

With a rejuvenated spirit and first win of 2017 in the bag, red-hot C.J. Sapong and the Union (1-4-4) look to continue their Eastern Conference upswing when they travel to RFK Stadium to face Sebastien Le Toux and D.C. United (3-4-2) on Saturday.

Here are five things to know:

1. Victory spark
For the first time since summer 2016, the Union won a game. The struggling club, which is still hanging at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, used a second-half push to dismantle the New York Red Bulls, 3-0, last weekend.

"It was something to build on as we look forward to D.C.," said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club has a three-game point streak. "The result at home, as good as it was at 3-0, doesn't mean a heck of a lot if we don't follow it up with another good performance."

But that win was more than three points in the standings. As Curtin put it, the lopsided victory injected the Union with newfound confidence. 

"Confidence is everything, it goes a long way," he said. "You see a little extra bounce in their step, a little more smiling in the weight room. A victory gives confidence. We were able to stick together and you see a little momentum on our side. Guys are excited to get back on the field."

With a side of confidence, the Union also feel relieved. According to Sapong, the winless run was a storm they were stuck in. And that storm has passed. 

"We handled the adversity well and stayed loose in the locker room," he said. "Getting three points is something we worked very hard to and expected to have it before this point in the season but it adds a little bit of a story to everything. Going through this adversity in the beginning of the season will help throughout the season."

2. Surging Sapong
Despite the Union's troubled season, Sapong has shined bright.

"C.J. is obviously very hot right now," Curtin said following the Union's win.

Sapong carried the Union to their first win of the season with a stellar three-goal show in the win over the Red Bulls. Along with the victory, the veteran forward tied the league lead in goals with seven. But according to him, goals aren't the focus.

"I'm always trying to create space for myself but I feel where I provide the most impact is being a hassle for the defenders to play against," Sapong said. "Holding the ball up for my team and being tough on defense as well. I want to get the goals but I have to focus on the things that I do that help my team."

United have taken notice of Sapong's recent output. The Union will lean on the forward even more with the probable absence of attacking midfielder Roland Alberg, who suffered a hamstring injury last weekend and is questionable for Saturday.

"Sapong is playing really well right now," United striker Patrick Mullins said. "He's someone we are aware of."

3. United rebound
Although D.C. United are coming off a 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact, their second in four games, manager Ben Olsen isn't worried. His club is still one point out of playoff position.

"We all have to be on a certain level to succeed," he said. "If four or five players turn it down just a bit, that's enough. I'm not overly concerned, I believe this group has a response in it. We're not in the worst spot in the table, we just have to focus on the next two games and get the points we need."

While United are looking for points, the Union will look to turn up the emotion.

"This game is about us," Curtin said. "It's about us continuing to build on the past couple good results. We're going to go on the road against the rival who we've had some heated games with in the past. This won't be any different."

For the home team, Saturday's match is about respecting the Union but controlling the tempo. 

"It's a team that shouldn't be overlooked," Mullins said of the Union. "They just got their first win but that could have come a while back for them. They have dangerous players, the onus is for us to respond, be on the offensive and take on the opponent when they come in this weekend."

4. Keep an eye on …
Union: Though Sapong is on a tear, the key to Saturday's match could be young Adam Najem. The 22-year-old is the only natural No. 10 on the roster as Alberg may miss the contest with a hamstring injury. "We want to give guys opportunities," Curtin said. "We would be more than willing to plug him in."

D.C. United: As a result of United injuries, former Union man Le Toux has made three consecutive starts for his new club. He's rewarded Olsen with two goals over that span. "He does exactly what Seba does," Curtin said. "He runs the line and gets behind defenders. He's injected life into their offense."

5. This and that
• The Union are 7-8-4 against United all-time, which includes a Union road loss, 2-1, on April 1. Sapong scored the only goal for the Union.

• Le Toux currently ranks second on United with two goals, while Luciano Acosta leads the club with three.

• With a pair of assists last weekend, Chris Pontius tied Haris Medunjanin for the Union team lead in assists with three.

• The Union will be without Josh Yaro (shoulder), Maurice Edu (knee), while Alberg is questionable. For United, Patrick Nyarko (hamstring) and Nick DeLeon (lower ab strain) are out, with Steve Birnbaum (concussion), Bill Hamid (groin) and Julian Buescher (IT band irritation) are questionable. 

• With Derrick Jones on international duty and Ray Gaddis banged up from last weekend, the Union could tap Keegan Rosenberry and Warren Creavalle for big minutes against United. Creavalle has yet to play this season, while Rosenberry started on the bench in the team's last three matches.

Union believe they found their missing piece

usa-david-accam.jpg
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

usa-david-accam.jpg
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.”