Union

Union scoring big on international soccer stage

Union scoring big on international soccer stage

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union were having a lot of fun at the end of Thursday's practice, firing shots from the edge of the box and going nuts when an equipment intern ended the session with a perfectly placed blast into the corner of the net.

Perhaps the only Union player having more fun was an 18-year-old about 7,000 miles away. That would be Philly homegrown kid Auston Trusty, who scored a great goal to help cap the U.S. Under-20 team's 6-0 pasting of New Zealand in the FIFA U-20 World Cup round of 16 in South Korea — and then celebrated in style afterward.

Along with fellow Union homegrown Derrick Jones, who's been a starter at the World Cup, Trusty is gaining valuable experience on an international stage. The same can be said for captain Alejandro Bedoya, who joined the U.S. senior national team ahead of two big World Cup qualifiers, as he usually does.

And then there's Bedoya's midfield partner, Haris Medunjanin, who was called into the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team for next Friday's World Cup qualifier vs. Greece.

"I always like to go back and play for my country because I was born there and it's a big honor," Medunjanin said after practice. "I think for anybody to play for their country, it's a dream come true."

If that's the case, Union players have been fulfilling a lot of dreams as the international break approaches. But devotion to the club is important too as Medunjanin decided he wanted to play in Saturday's game vs. New York City FC (1 p.m./6ABC) before meeting up with his Bosnian teammates.

For Union head coach Jim Curtin, that says a lot.

"Haris is a great professional," Curtin said. "He really will do anything for the Philadelphia Union badge. He's a guy who led our group through this good stretch of games … not just because of the goals or the assists but also the little things off the field, keeping the group together. He's a big part of the team.

"If you talk about a guy you want young players to emulate, to look up to for all the things he does on the field and off — he's a true professional."

Medunjanin has a unique national team history, suiting up for Netherlands youth teams before moving over to play for Bosnia, where he's earned over 50 caps and helped guide to its first World Cup berth in 2014. He lived in Bosnia until he was 7 before he fled with his mother and sister at the outbreak of the Bosnian War, growing up in Holland and learning the sport at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar's youth academy. He's since played in top leagues in Spain, Israel and Turkey, giving him quite the pedigree to be a leader on a young Union team.

And even though other European players have been snubbed by their national team coaches after coming to MLS, Curtin believes Medunjanin will continue to be a mainstay for Bosnia and help change the league's perception across the pond.

"On every roster, there's a great European player, a great South American player that plays in this league and goes, 'Wow, there's quality here, it's getting better,'" Curtin said. "The stadiums, the atmosphere, the way we travel, the hotels we stay in — the bar is getting raised. And it spreads quickly throughout the soccer world.

"When Haris talks about it with his teammates when he goes back to Bosnia, it just spreads more and more. And it's really spreading quickly. It's a rapid rise right now. If it was a stock, I'd invest."

Medunjanin certainly believes MLS is a growing league, admitting Thursday that he's been "surprised" by the quality and that it's "better than I thought." And while he's still learning to deal with some of the league's tougher aspects — like the kind of travel and jet lag that doesn't exist in European leagues — he's also trying to use his experience to teach a thing or two to the team's younger players.

One of those guys is Jones, who, with his strong performance for the U-20s, is looking more and more like he could have a bright future both in Philly and on the international stage.

"He has a comfort level on the ball that is unique," Curtin said. "He's brave and sometimes he'll try to dribble out of situations where I cringe on the sideline but he always bounces out with the ball at his feet. Some guys have that; some guys don't. He's one of them. When he goes into a tackle, the ball always comes out at his feet.

"Derrick's fearless. I think he's turned a lot of heads. We're not surprised here back in Philadelphia because he's a special player."

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.”