Union

Union-Sporting KC 5 things: McCarthy taking over in goal for tough road clash

Union-Sporting KC 5 things: McCarthy taking over in goal for tough road clash

Union at Sporting Kansas City
8:30 p.m., The Comcast Network

Riding a modest two-game MLS winning streak, the Union (6-7-4) hit the road for a big test against one of the top teams in the league in Sporting Kansas City (8-4-7) on Thursday night.

Here are five things to know:

1. Depleted but still powerful
The Union are certainly catching Sporting Kansas City at a good time as three of the club’s premier players — Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler — are with the U.S. national team for the Gold Cup. On top of that, Roger Espinoza is suspended and leading scorer Gerso Fernandes is questionable with an injury.

Nevertheless, Union head coach Jim Curtin warned that SKC is deep enough to overcome those losses, especially at home, where they own a sparkling 6-0-3 record this year.

“The way they play will be the same,” Curtin said. “They have a true system they believe in. They have a ton of experienced guys in [Ike] Opara, [Benny] Feilhaber, guys who’ve been through MLS games. It’s gonna be a difficult task. You can never take them lightly.”

SKC head coach Peter Vermes is confident in his team’s depth, too.

“One man’s absence is another man’s opportunity,” he told reporters in Kansas City. “For the good majority of games that we’ve had to make changes, guys’ performances have been good.”

2. McCarthy takes the reins
The Union will also be missing some key guys due to the Gold Cup as captain Alejandro Bedoya is with the U.S. national team while star goalkeeper Andre Blake recently joined Jamaica.

Blake is coming off two straight shutouts — his sixth and seventh of the season — and made some big-time saves in those wins over the New England Revolution and D.C. United.

Now, the Union turn to backup John McCarthy, who has played only in the Union’s two U.S. Open Cup games this season, most recently a shootout loss to the New York Red Bulls last week.

“Johnny’s coming off a really good performance vs. Red Bull,” Curtin said. “I think he’s in good form and is gonna do a good job for us in KC.”

After playing in 11 games in his rookie season in 2015, McCarthy has made only one league start since the start of the 2016 campaign — a 3-0 loss to Chicago last year. But his teammates have faith in the Philly native and La Salle alum.

“Dre, like I’ve said before, is to me the best goalie in the league,” Union winger Fafa Picault said. “But we definitely believe in John and what he’s able to do for us. We’ll count on him to make big saves. We’ll be ready and I’m sure he’s ready as well.”

3. Defense leads to offense
While Blake naturally deserves a lot of the credit for the team’s two straight shutouts, the backline has also been especially stingy, particularly the center back pairing of veteran Oguchi Onyewu and rookie Jack Elliott (who’s good to go Thursday after leaving Sunday’s game with a contusion).

“They defend individually really well,” Vermes said. “It’s like a bunch of little pitbulls on the field in the way they won’t give you time and space on the ball.”

Curtin also noted that the hard work on defense has lead to more offensive success with three different players scoring in last week’s win over New England, including attacking midfielders Ilsinho and Roland Alberg.

“It’s great for their confidence,” said Picault, who’s been one of the team’s most dangerous offensive players.

4. Players to watch
Union: C.J. Sapong, who spent the first four years of his MLS career in Kansas City, is back in old stomping grounds. And he could make it a special trip as he’s just one goal away from reaching the double-digit mark in goals for the first time.

Sporting Kansas City: The hosts may be missing a lot but still have a big weapon in center back Ike Opara, who is a dominant defender and dangerous offensively on set pieces. “People might laugh at this comment and I don’t really care,” Curtin said. “I’ve watched every KC game and Ike Opara is playing for me at an MVP-type level.”

5. This and that
• Chris Pontius was a late call-up to join Bedoya on the US national team but will be available for the game in Kansas City before departing.

• Sporting KC is undefeated at home in 17 straight games, with 10 shutouts in that stretch. They’re one of four teams in the league without a home defeat this season.

• SKC has allowed only 13 goals in 19 games, by far the lowest goals-against average in MLS.

• Of the Union’s six victories this season, five have come by shutout.

• In Philly’s last trip to Kansas City, they had one of their worst endings in franchise history, allowing two goals in stoppage time to turn a late 2-1 lead into a 3-2 loss. Just two days later, Curtin decided to bench goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, who never played another game for the Union.

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.”