Union

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union vs. Real Salt Lake
8:00 p.m. on CSN
 
Hitting the road with a club record four-game win streak at their back, the streaking Union (4-4-4) will face a cross-country test Saturday, as they take on Albert Rusnak and inconsistent Real Salt Lake (3-8-2) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
 
Here are five things to know.
 
1. Keeping momentum
With four-straight wins and six unbeaten to catapult them up the Eastern Conference standings and nearly in playoff position, the Union are rolling. 
 
But despite the hot streak, Union manager Jim Curtin doesn’t want his club’s demons returning.
 
“The biggest thing we’ve tried to stress how hard we had to work to get out of that hole and the feeling we had while we were in that hole, we don’t want that back ever against,” Curtin said, with regards to the Union going winless in their first eight games of the season. “The good run of games helps that and the performances have been really good, but you’re guarding against that ever creeping back in and kicking it down when it does.”
 
Curtin shouldn’t have to worry about that. His players have proven to possess a steady mental quality, one they put on display throughout the eight-game winless streak to start the season. There wasn’t infighting or finger-pointing, the club went to work and are now fighting for a playoff position.
 
“We’re not going to get too high or get too low,” Curtin said. “We’re going to stick with what we believe in.”
 
Along with mental strength, Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong, who has eight goals on the season, believes it’s positive vibes that will help the team continue its streak in Utah.
 
“It’s the collective energy of the group,” he said. “Through our rough spell, we still had belief in ourselves. We finally got that one win and have been flying high since then.”  
 
2. Haris on fire
Playing quarterback of the Union’s offense and spearheading his club’s recent hot streak, Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin is quickly warming up to MLS.
 
“Haris has been excellent for us,” Curtin said. “There’s a couple statistics now where we’re at the top of the league and he has one — it’s called usage percentage. Fourteen-percent of our touches are distributed by him, so if you want him to be a quarterback, point guard, he’s third in the league in that. We want him on the ball as much as possible and that’s including restarts where he’s proven to be lethal.”
 
Lethal is right. After registering three assists in his first nine MLS games, the veteran defensive midfielder is pacing the Union’s attack, scoring two goals and two assists over the Union’s last four wins. That includes the game-winner against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, where he ripped a free kick through the Rapids’ defensive wall to beat Tim Howard from just outside the box.
 
And while Medunjanin is known as an adept playmaker, it’s that free-kick scoring ability that takes his game, and the Union offense, to another level.
 
“He has an ability to serve a ball to get an assist and the shooting he possesses to win a game for you, it’s huge,” Curtin said. “Other teams have to be cautious in and around the box which leads to us being more dangerous around the box.” 
 
3. Trusting the process
The Union and RSL have a lot in common this season. Both teams went winless from August onward to finish the 2016 season and both clubs suffered losses in the early going of 2017, falling to the bottom of their respective conferences.
 
The difference is while the Union have recovered from that depressing ordeal, RSL hasn’t.
 
“The process is going,” said RSL coach Mike Petke, who took over the team in late March. “It takes a while and you have to be willing to go over a lot of speed bumps. We’re working through some stuff and we’ll be better off in the end.” 
 
While RSL has five losses in their last six matches, the players do feel that tide turning. 
 
“You gotta keep pulling out the positives of every game we play and keep building on them,” RSL’s Luke Mulholland said. “We have to keep working on the positives, shooting and hopefully we’ll find the back of the net here.” 
 
With a 2-1 home win over New York City FC on May 17, RSL traveled to CenturyLink Field last weekend, where they stood toe-to-toe in a 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders. They were not outmatched, which should give the Union pause. 
 
“I consider it a loss on paper but we gained so much in there,” Petke said. “To look at the game and rewatch it again, the players did 95% of what we wanted. It was ugly, we dumbed it down because that’s what we had to do. We were bleeding goals so we wanted to limit certain things. It’s an incredible stepping stone. But it’s all for nothing if they don’t carry it into the Philadelphia game.” 
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Albert Rusnak: While RSL doesn’t have much going for it offensively, it’s not for lack of trying from Rusnak. The 22-year-old first-year MLS midfielder has three goals and four assists in 11 games. He’s the player the Union will have to stop Saturday.

Haris Medunjanin: The midfielder will look to keep his hot streak alive Saturday, as he goes for his fifth point in five games. It’s becoming abundantly clear that as Medunjanin goes, so does the Union.

5. This and that
• In the Union’s history, they have never defeated RSL. The club is 0-3-6 all-time against the Western Conference side.

• During the Union’s 4-0-0 streak, they have outscored opponents, 11-1. The lone goal against came in the first half of the Union’s come-from-behind win over the Rapids on Saturday.

• Despite a very success past few weeks, the Union are picking up injuries. Midfielder Fabian Herbers strained his hip/groin against the Rapids. He’s out two-to-four weeks. Roland Alberg is also expected to be out with a quad injury. Defender Josh Yaro is healthy and training with the team but is a conditioning track. 

• For the hosts, MLS veteran Tony Beltran is expected back in the lineup against the Union. The defender missed 10 matches with back and calf injuries.

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.”

Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

usa-andre-blake-union.jpg
USA Today Images

Union reward Andre Blake with multi-year extension

Updated 4:52 p.m.

Andre Blake will backstop the Union into the future.

The 27-year-old goalkeeper inked a multi-year extension Wednesday. The deal is expected to make Blake one of the highest paid goalkeepers in MLS and was completed using Targeted Allocation Money. 

Further details were not released.

“I am ready to lead,” Blake said. “I’ll definitely try to lead by my performance on the field and the way I carry myself off the field.”

While the extension was a no-brainer for the Union’s on-field success, the move was also an important one off the field. Historically, the club is known for its roster turnover and lack of continuity. Keeping Blake on the books for years to come gives the Union a well-respected face of the franchise that fans can appreciate. 

“It is a priority for us to build and secure the foundation of the Philadelphia Union, and Andre is as big a part of that foundation as any player,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said. “Ensuring he will be here for years to come is an important step for our club. We’re delighted to sign him to a new multi-year contract and would like to thank him for his dedication and hard work.”

Blake, a former first-overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and 2016 MLS All-Star, earned the 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honor and claimed the runner-up spot for the award in 2017. He has proven himself to be one of the most exciting and productive goalkeepers in MLS, with 220 saves and 17 shutouts over 65 career matches.

Because of that success, and his heroics, while captaining the Jamaican National Team, Blake is viewed as someone who could transition to a European club. But despite the prospects and rumors, the Union claim there has never been a serious offer for the goalkeeper, making this extension a possibility.

“Right now my main focus is Philadelphia,” said Blake, who has never shied away from his interest in a European move. “I’m not worried about the future. I’m gonna live in the now and continue to work hard and make my performance speak for itself.”