Union

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Facing the league's best team

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Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Facing the league's best team

Union at Toronto FC
8 p.m. on TCN

Fresh off a frustrating draw in San Jose, the Union (8-11-6) have an even tougher road game as they face first-place Toronto FC (14-3-8) at BMO Field on Wednesday night.

Here are five things to know:

1. Road woes
The Union have won only once on the road this season — one of five teams in MLS with less than two away wins in 2017. And of all those results, perhaps none were as disheartening as Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Earthquakes, as a penalty in the final minutes caused them to blow a very late lead.

The result spoiled an overall good performance, including the first career goal from rookie Jack Elliott, and did little to help them in their playoff chase. With 30 points, the Union currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, six points out of the final playoff spot.

“It was a good team performance and a heartbreaking ending to the game,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “Guys put a ton into it. I thought it was one of our better road performances, so there are positives in that regard.”

They’ll need an even better road performance to get a result against a Toronto side that’s a whopping 9-0-3 at home. 

2. The league’s best ever?
With 50 points in 25 games, Toronto FC is not only comfortable in the Supporters’ Shield lead but also on pace to become just the third MLS team this millennium to reach the two-points-per-game plateau and finish with the best record in league history.

So is this the best team Curtin has ever seen?

“I know with the Twitter world, you have to talk about best ever everything, best eclipse, best whatever,” Curtin said. “I don’t like comparing generations because it’s always challenging to do. But I do think they’re a special team.”

And the reason they’re special, he said, is not only because of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley but the effective role players they’ve filled out around their star trio. Curtin shouted out last week’s MLS Player of the Week Justin Morrow, midfielders Victor Vasquez and Marky Delgado and defender Drew Moor as just a few examples.

“Toronto has three key guys but then people forget about the pieces they have around them now,” Curtin said. “They’ve done a heck of a job assembling their roster.”

3. Blake set to return
The good news for the Union is that they’ll have a big weapon to try to slow down Altidore, Giovinco and the rest of TFC’s star-studded attack.

Curtin announced that reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake, who missed the last eight games because of the Gold Cup and a hand injury, is set to once again man the net.

“It’s good to have him back,” Curtin said. “I think Johnny [McCarthy] did an excellent job in his absence. But to have Andre back in net is a good thing for the group.”

With Blake returning and even Maurice Edu finally on the mend, the Union are quite healthy for their upcoming stretch that includes a home game vs. Atlanta on Saturday. Only Fabian Herbers is out with Curtin saying that Ilsinho (right adductor strain) and Oguchi Onyewu (left groin strain) will be available for selection. 

4. Keep an eye on …
Jack Elliott: The Union center back and MLS Rookie of the Year hopeful had arguably his best game of the season in San Jose and is now set for his toughest test yet. Curtin thinks he’ll be up for the challenge, though he does want to see the rookie improve his defensive heading. “He’s playing way behind the years,” the Union coach said. “He’s playing against some of the top forwards in the league and has been our most solid guy back there.” 

Sebastian Giovinco: Curtin thinks the Italian playmaker is maybe the best player the league has ever seen. And Giovinco often shows that against the Union, scoring in his first five games vs. Philly before that streak ended earlier this year when he left a game with an early injury. “Giovinco can beat you 100 different ways,” Curtin said. “You give him a free kick and it’s all but a certainty that it will at least be a scare for Andre. You have to be smart, have to be disciplined.”

5. This and that
• Keegan Rosenberry, last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, made his first appearance since May on Saturday after Giliano Wijnaldum was forced to exit with an injury. And he might see some more action this week. “Whether it’s Toronto or Atlanta, he will play a role in these games moving forward,” Curtin said.

• TFC are unbeaten in their last 13 regular-season home games, winning 10 of them and drawing three. 

• Toronto’s scored four goals in each of their last two home games. They’ve never scored four goals in three straight home games.

• The Union are averaging 16.2 aerials won per game this season, the most of any MLS team.

• In 17 regular-season meetings, the Union and Toronto have each won six times to go along with five draws.

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.”