Union

Union-Impact 5 things: Searching for confidence, goals against visiting Montreal

Union-Impact 5 things: Searching for confidence, goals against visiting Montreal

Union vs. Impact
1 p.m. on 6ABC

After suffering four consecutive losses, the winless Union (0-4-2) will grasp for traction when they host the one-win Montreal Impact (1-2-3) on Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium.

It's a battle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Here are five things to know:

1. Finding confidence
The Union's nightmarish start continued last Friday with a devastating home loss to New York City FC. It was the club's fourth straight defeat, which sank the Union to the bottom of MLS with two points through six games.

"We've put ourselves in a tough spot with our start," Union attack Chris Pontius said. "We know what we have to fix, everything is fixable. We have the talent here, we've seen it throughout games, we just need to put it together for 90 minutes."

According to manager Jim Curtin, the Union's issues, while plentiful, aren't easy to pinpoint and correct. But what Curtin can identify is that his club is putting in the work to turn things around.

"It's not for lack of effort," Curtin said. "This group is so deserving of a result. I feel for the guys because I see how hard they work each and every week."

However, one fixable aspect of the Union's game is a stiffening of their upper lip. If the fragile Union can maintain a strong mental state through the ebbs and flows of Saturday's match and beyond, Curtin is confident his team will begin to see favorable results.

"When things aren't going well, guys start to press and confidence is down," he said. "You start to see guys try to do too much and be the one to make a big play.

"There will be mistakes that are made over the course of 90 minutes. It's how you bounce back, that's how you get points in this league. It's something we discussed. Is there a magic potion to cure it? I wish there was but there's not. But we have to get through this together."

2. Finding the net
If the Union want to begin that turnaround, they will need to hit the net. Curtin's club is tied for the second-fewest goals scored in MLS this season at five, despite adding 70 total shots in six games.

"We need to punish teams, we need to put some goals away," Pontius said. "The past few games, we've started the game brightly, turned over teams in bad spots but we just haven't punished them and got the goals that we needed."

Alejandro Bedoya believes those goals will arrive. The Union captain, who remained confident in his team's ability to climb out from this hole, blamed his club's attacking issues on "small margins" in the offensive third.

"We've stressed that it's important to have a high energy level, it's been intense," Bedoya said. "The results have not gone our way but guys haven't gotten discouraged, which is a good sign. We're still confident, we just have to tweak a few things, we have to get sharper in the final third and execute on some plays. It'll come. We're not concerned with it, we'll right the ship."

But believing is only part of the equation. Curtin identified some of the on-field issues that have kept the Union out of the net and plans on fixing them for Saturday.

"The only way you get to goal in this league is playing that forward ball," said Curtin, who believes his team isn't being aggressive enough with its passing. "We've worked on that a great deal. There hasn't been a ton of times where our wingers have gotten in behind, teams are keeping us in front of them right now. It's fair to say we've had good possession but it's not where the other team is really threatened." 

3. Counter Impact
With just one more win on the season than the Union, the visiting Impact know exactly what to expect when the whistle blows at Talen Energy Stadium. They've been through it.

"It's going to be a tough game because they have to go out there and shine," Impact forward Dominic Oduro told the media. "The fans want a win, they want a win and the coaches want a win. They are going to come full force."

Expecting that pressure from the Union, the Impact will use their speed to work the counter attack. After all, it's their calling card.

"We're good at counter attacking, so hopefully we absorb the pressure and take that for our advantage," Oduro said. "They'll have the crowd behind them, so we have to be smart and absorb that pressure."

Curtin is well aware of what to expect. 

"Montreal is a very dangerous team that is good on the counter attack and has some very experienced players," he said. "We'll have to be sharp. They have a very dangerous group."

Although the Impact, who are coming off a 2-1 win against Atlanta United, know the Union are vulnerable, they refuse to take the hosts lightly. As Impact coach Mauro Biello told the media, it's a league of parity.

"We know they haven't won a game yet but this is a good team, a team that will be desperate to win," Biello said. "When you look at the standings, you can get a false indication. They have quality players on that side and we have to be ready on our end to go get points."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: With Bedoya dropping from the No. 10 position back to his more natural No. 8 slot, the Union are expected to rely on Roland Alberg to take over as primary midfield playmaker for the second consecutive week. "His possession was deeper than we'd want it to be," Curtin said of Alberg's performance last week. "He connected a lot of his passes but we want them to take a little more risk and be a little more forward. He showed some good signs."

Impact: The Impact's MVP in 2016, Ignacio Piatti missed two games with an injury before returning last week with a vengeance. He scored a goal and registered five shots. In four career games against the Union, Piatti has two goals and two assists. 

5. This and that
• The Union are undefeated hosting the Impact, holding a 2-0-4 home record against the Canadian side. However, the club is 3-5-5 all-time against the Impact, outscored, 22-15.

• For the third game, the Union will be without goalkeeper John McCarthy, who is recovering from a concussion. Jake McGuire is expected to be the primary backup. Defender Josh Yaro (shoulder) is also out, despite being near full health.

• Throughout training this week, Curtin, who may be looking to counter the Impact's forward speed, played right back Ray Gaddis with the starting team ahead of Keegan Rosenberry, and Jack Elliott ahead of Oguchi Onyewu.

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.”