Union

Union-New York City FC 5 things: Seeking revenge vs. David Villa and company

Union-New York City FC 5 things: Seeking revenge vs. David Villa and company

Union at New York City FC
1 p.m. on 6ABC

After suffering their first loss since April 14, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake on the road, the Union (4-5-4) aim to regroup on Saturday as they travel to Yankee Stadium to challenge reigning league MVP David Villa and New York City FC (6-5-3).

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Learning from the past
In the first meeting with NYCFC in mid-April, the Union stood toe-to-toe with their Eastern Conference opponent for a half, only to fall apart in the 51st and 90th minute for the 2-0 defeat.

"In the first 45 minutes we did make it uncomfortable but we didn't punish them," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We turned them over but we didn't punish them and we were not able to sustain it for 90 minutes. We fatigued."

But the Union are a new team this time around. The loss to NYCFC was the Union's fourth consecutive defeat at the time. On Saturday, the same team will be 4-1-0 in its last five matches entering Yankee Stadium.

"When we played them earlier, it was when we were trying to figure out stuff," Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. "Not to take anything away from them, they came here and they did good. But we have to believe we can go there and believe we can beat them. We're playing better than when we last played them and I think we're a better team now than we were then."

That belief stems from experience. Curtin, who wants to apply an aggressive press to disrupt NYCFC's more skilled attackers, knows his team has to hang with NYCFC for the full 90. The strategy is worthless unless the team can keep it up.

"In order to press a team with their quality, you have to be able to sustain for the entire time," he said. "It will be a real challenge in their building."

2. Preparing for the outfield
To also aid in their revenge match against NYCFC, the Union are in deep preparation for unique circumstances in the outfield at Yankee Stadium. The home field of NYCFC is considered to be near the smallest dimensions that FIFA will allow and is in the running for smallest in MLS history.

"We shortened and narrowed the [practice] field being that the New York stadium is a bit more narrow," Union attacker Fafa Picault said. "It's about getting used to it so we don't over-hit balls and get used to holding shape within the lines of the game."

Curtin didn't stop with just altering his club's practice field, which is located just outside Talen Energy Stadium. He assigned the Union's USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel, to act as NYCFC in a scrimmage on the narrowed field.

"I put the group through a good training exercise where Bethlehem represented a New York City team and how they like to build out of the back," Curtin said. "It was a good exercise. Overall it was good preparation for what will be a good game this weekend."

3. Bedoya out, Creavalle in
If the Union are going to take a result from NYCFC, they'll have to do it without captain and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who is away from international duty with the U.S. men's national team.

Filling that void will be veteran midfielder Warren Creavalle, who will slide into the No. 8 spot behind Ilsinho and ahead of Haris Medunjanin. It will be Creavalle's first start of the season.

"He brings it each and every day in training," Curtin said of Creavalle. "He works his tail off, he's sharp, he competes, he fights for every yard and inch in practice. He's a true pro. He's a guy who will be called upon to play this weekend."

While Creavalle may not be a flashy replacement for Bedoya, he's a serviceable one. The midfielder covers ground and excels in mucking up the middle of the field for the opposition. That's exactly what Curtin is looking for on Saturday.

"He's a guy I have full confidence in," Curtin said. "He does the stuff that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. I'm excited for Warren. It's a good spot for him because it's tiny and not a lot of space for teams to hide. It's a good situation to have a quality player like Warren ready to go in."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Although the rookie winger likely won't get the start on Saturday, Marcus Epps is expected to back up Chris Pontius on the right side of the Union's attack because of a lower-body injury suffered by Fabian Herbers. That means he could be a major part of the Union's second half. "We're happy with him," Curtin said. "He has a ton of potential and he's a guy we are really high on. With the injury to Fabian, he has an opportunity to step in and perform."

NYCFC: Villa is the player to watch on NYCFC because he's always the player to watch. Curtin called him probably the best player MLS has ever had. And that's without considering the incredible April goal against the Union, in which Villa buried a shot from midfield over Blake and under the crossbar. 

5. This and that
• The Union are 2-3-1 all-time against NYCFC, including a 2-0 loss at Talen Energy Stadium in April.

• Saturday's match will feature two of MLS' most productive scorers in C.J. Sapong and Villa. Both players are tied for third in the league with eight goals on the season.

• Led by Villa's 21, NYCFC leads MLS in shots on goal with 76 in 14 games. The Union rank ninth with 60 in 13 games.

• Both clubs have hit a speed bump on their season of late. NYCFC is coming off a 3-0 loss to Atlanta United and a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution, while the Union are coming off a disjointed 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids and a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake.

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 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

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 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.”