Union

Union-NYCFC 5 things: Union aim to end recent 'bad spell' against Villa, NYCFC

Union-NYCFC 5 things: Union aim to end recent 'bad spell' against Villa, NYCFC

Sitting alone at the bottom of MLS, C.J. Sapong and the winless Union (0-3-2) look to break the curse and avoid their fourth consecutive defeat when they host David Villa and powerful New York City FC (2-2-1) on Friday night (7 p.m., ESPN) at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Fighting the way out
With three straight losses and few ways to improve before Friday's clash with NYCFC, the Union will have to strong-arm their way out of this slump.

"We're in a bad spell right now, we've lost three games in a row and that's hard," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We have to fight our way out. We have to stick together as a group and fight our way out of this thing."

Although the Union are at a low point, they do have hope. The club is doing well enough to create offensive chances and is in the league's upper echelon in shots against. This comes despite giving up the fifth-most goals in MLS.

"We are creating chances and we're not giving up a lot of chances," said Curtin, who insisted these type of numbers will pay off in the long run. "We're second in the league in shots conceded which is good. Every team goes on a good run and every team has a bad spell."

To help the Union avoid falling into listlessness, Curtin is working to boost confidence with a mix of perspective and pushing on-field passion.

"We're not happy with where are on the table, we've lost three games in a row now," he said. "It's important to keep perspective and recognize the good moments that we've had. We do still have a very good group, a good team and we had good meetings this week. We've stressed bringing the energy, bringing the passion on our home field."

2. Lineup changes
Following last Saturday's bitter loss, Curtin hinted that he would explore significant changes to his starting group. But during his press conference on Wednesday, the coach backed off.

"There's always a consideration for everything," he said. "We'll discuss things through. But we believe in this group and we believe in the formation we play. It just takes us executing. Making roles as clear as possible is something that we've stressed."

On Saturday, when the Union fell behind a goal in the second half to the Portland Timbers, Curtin tapped rarely used Roland Alberg to step in as the No. 10, while Alejandro Bedoya fell back deeper into the midfield.

"Roland has worked hard in that regard and we rewarded him with some minutes in this game," Curtin said. "We look forward to New York City now and will make the best decision and best group out there to get a win."

He also picked forward Jay Simpson to join Sapong in the attack. But despite the personnel to run a two-striker set, don't expect the Union to move away from their typical 4-2-3-1 formation on Friday.

"We still believe in what we're doing and we don't want to make it more complicated for the players," Curtin said. "We haven't performed how we want to on the field but if we continue to believe in the system that we have, we will get the results that we deserve. We've been beaten three times in a 34-game season."

3. Matching intensity
Aware of the Union's recent struggles, NYCFC knows what to expect on Friday when it faces a wounded club desperate for a win.

"It'll be a tough game for us, we have to be ready to compete," NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira said. "They are going through a difficult period. We need to be ready to fight.

"It will be two teams who need to win games. If we manage to play the way we know and add a little more aggressiveness in our game, we'll have a chance."

Ratcheting up the aggressiveness and tempo is something Vieira is pushing for Friday, especially following his team's 2-1 loss to D.C. United last weekend. The defeat brought NYCFC's record to a lukewarm 2-2-1 on the season.

"We need to add something more to our game too if we want to compete against MLS teams," Vieira said. "The way we want to play is positive and good, but we need to add a little bit more."

For Curtin, the match will be about meeting that tempo and keeping Vieira's club off balance.

"We know what they are going to do, but it starts with our initial pressure, not letting them get a rhythm," he said. "I'm confident our group will have a good response and do that on our home field."

4. Keep an eye on
David Villa: Villa isn't just a productive scorer (three goals on the season), he's also become an MLS playmaker. The forward ranks fourth in MLS with three helpers. "He's a guy who if you focus too much on him he'll set up goals, too," Curtin said. "He has that ability."

Haris Medunjanin: The Union season is not be going to plan, but that's not the fault of Medunjanin, a defensive midfielder with a flair for playmaking. With just two assists on the season, the MLS newcomer is overdue for a breakout game. "He's as good a passer as I've worked with," Curtin said. "He only has two assists but that could be up around seven or eight already if we catch those little breaks I've talked about before. He's a true professional." 

5. This and that
• The Union are 2-2-1 against NYCFC all-time, but 2-1-0 at Talen Energy Stadium.

• Union goalkeeper John McCarthy will miss his third straight game with a concussion.

"McCarthy still is not cleared to play yet," Curtin said. "We're in one of those holding patterns where he's not quite cleared yet." Jake McGuire will once again be the backup.

• Another injury to monitor is center back Jack Yaro, who is also close to being back in the lineup after missing all season. The second-year MLS defender is near full recovery from a shoulder injury suffered in the preseason. "Josh would tell you he's ready to go now," Curtin said. "He's getting closer."

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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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.”