Union

Union-Revolution 5 things: After Gold Cup, Pontius returns but Blake out

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Union-Revolution 5 things: After Gold Cup, Pontius returns but Blake out

Union at New England Revolution
7:30 p.m., CSN

CHESTER, Pa. — With the Gold Cup over, the Union (7-9-5) get some much-needed help as they face the Revolution (6-9-5) tonight at Gillette Stadium, looking to win their second straight and improve upon this season’s road struggles.

Here are five things to know:

1. Pontius returns, with a trophy
Chris Pontius didn’t get to play in the final two games for the U.S. national team during their run to the Gold Cup title, but that didn’t make it any less sweet to win a championship.

“It was pretty special,” Pontius said Friday, two days after the Americans beat Jamaica in the final. “With the national team, a lot of guys were talking, there’s not many times you get a chance to win trophies. So you enjoy it.”

For Pontius, just getting back into the national team picture was special after many years away. But he knows to stick around, he has to perform for the Union.

“I’m ready to get back,” said Pontius, who has missed the last three Philly games while on international duty. “It was my first time sleeping in my bed in a long time. … I gotta put up a lot of numbers here and hopefully we get wins on the road and get into the playoffs. That’s what I can control and that’s what I’m gonna do.”

In addition to Pontius’ return, head coach Jim Curtin said Fafa Picault is set to come back from a hamstring strain, giving the team a lot more depth than it had on the wing over the past week.

2. No Blake, for now
The other player to return from Gold Cup duty this week is Andre Blake. But the Jamaican goalkeeper had to come out of the final because of a nasty cut to his hand — and the injury will likely keep him out of at least one more Union game.

“It’s good to know it’s not too big of an injury but I feel for him,” Pontius said. “For me, he was the best player in the tournament, hands down. He’s a big part of our team as well.”

The good news for the Union is that backup John McCarthy has been sharp in Blake’s absence, picking up the shutout in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Columbus Crew SC after making a couple of big-time saves vs. Columbus four days earlier.

But McCarthy’s start this weekend vs. the Revs may be his last, depending on how quickly Blake’s hand heals.

“We hope to get him back as quick as possible, hopefully for Dallas [next weekend],” Curtin said. “If he’s a quick healer, it could be a possibility.”

3. Dominating the Revs
The Union have beaten New England three straight times, outscoring the Revs by a whopping 11-0 margin in those games.

Does that give Curtin confidence they can win just their second game on the road in 11 games this season?

“You can throw that stuff out the window,” he said. “MLS makes no sense in terms of history or tradition, or rivalries, or whatever we want to talk about. It comes down to on the day, and on the day we know New England has five or six attacking players that can individually beat you yourself and score a goal.”

Even still, with many tougher road games looming ahead and the playoff red line probably higher than it was last last season in the East, Curtin knows they have to find a way to pick up points in games like this one.

“Even the one-pointers can come up and be so huge at the end of the year,” the Union coach said. “Not taking losses on the road is gonna be critical down the stretch.”

4. Players to watch
C.J. Sapong: The Union striker is coming off arguably his best game of the season, scoring his record 10th goal and adding a pair of pretty assists Wednesday. It also came with some drama as he argued with teammate Roland Alberg about who would take a penalty kick he drew. It will be interesting to see how Sapong responds just a few days later.

Juan Agudelo: The Union aren’t the only team getting players back from the Gold Cup as the Revs’ top striker returns, rejoining a potent attack that features Lee Nguyen, Kei Kamara, Kelyn Rowe and Teal Bunbury.

5. This and that
• The Revs are coming off a wild 4-3 win over the LA Galaxy last weekend in which Bunbury scored twice and Kamara also scored before revealing trade discussions after the game.

• The Revs bolstered their defense Friday with the signing of French defender Claude Dielna, who could be plugged into the lineup immediately vs. Philly.

• Union midfielder Derrick Jones has cleared concussion protocol after missing the last three games.

• The Union are 10-5-4 all-time vs. the Revs and 4-2-2 in New England.

Union believe they found their missing piece

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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

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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.”