Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Revenge on the mind for home opener

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Revenge on the mind for home opener

Union vs. Toronto FC
4:30 p.m. on CSN

With the revenge factor and home-field advantage on their side, the Union (0-0-1) open their account at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday (4:30 p.m./CSN) against superstar Sebastian Giovinco and Eastern Conference favorites, Toronto FC (0-0-1). It's an early but important test for Jim Curtin's club.

Here are five things to know:

1. Lineup consistency
The Union are coming off an impressive 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps last Sunday, earning the club its first point of the season in a tough rough environment. 

"We had a good game against Vancouver," Union center back Oguchi Onyewu said. "It was a good point away from home. Now it's time to do business in front of our fans."

That strong road effort means the Union likely won't alter their lineup on Saturday. Following the solid outing, Curtin will start a very similar group against Toronto FC. 

"You won't see us change drastically from the guys who did well against Vancouver," he said. "How we want to set up and defend won't be different."

That means the Union could tap the impressive Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya in the midfield, along with Fabian Herbers, Chris Pontius and Jay Simpson mounting the attack. Curtin, who likes to play a more up-tempo, attack-oriented game at home, isn't one to mess with a successful formula.

"We tend to have more of the ball at home," Curtin said. "We just need to get that final ball in the box a bit more reliably."

2. Stopping Gio
On Saturday, the Union will be tasked with something they haven't been able to do since Sept. 6, 2014 -- beat Toronto FC.

"They have very good players, these are the games that you test yourself," said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, whose club went 0-1-2 against Toronto FC last season, including a first-round playoff loss. "We're looking forward to this game. It'll take teamwork to shut them down but we're placing an emphasis on defending."

And while emphasizing defense is something Curtin implores his team to do on every occasion, it's a must against Toronto FC, which boasts one of the more potent attacks in MLS. 

"They are a very good attacking team," Curtin said, “and one we respect a great deal. We think we have a good plan in place."

Part of that plan, which Curtin didn't disclose in full, is to stop Giovinco, the league's most dangerous attacker. It sounds obvious but easier said than done. Giovinco has 39 goals and 31 assists over the last two seasons.

"Gio is the league's most dangerous player," said Curtin, who also mentioned Toronto FC players, Jozy Altidore, Drew Moor and Michael Bradley. "He's tricky because it can't just be center backs that focus on him because one-on-one he can beat anyone. You're just trying to limit touches. When he gets the ball, you want him as far away from your goal as possible."

3. Lacking intensity
Entering the season as Eastern Conference favorites, Toronto FC had a mild letdown in its season opener against Real Salt Lake last weekend, tying the game, 0-0. But what TFC coach Greg Vanney was most concerned with was a lack of fire from his squad.

"Our overall engagement and intensity needs to get higher," he told the media. "We had a good start to the game in Salt Lake but we faded out of it a little bit. It was too easy for Salt Lake to get beyond our first line. We have to be more engaged and have more intensity."

But while Vanney wants his club to be more engaged against the Union on Saturday, he doesn't want it to change the game plan. Though he respects the Union, Vanney said Saturday is about what his team can do. 

"We're still worrying about things we need to improve upon," he said. "It's going to be about us. They have a good team, they looked well-organized and very disciplined in their approach last week. They made it difficult for Vancouver to get chances. I suspect it'll be a tough game." 

4. Keep an eye on
Sebastian Giovinco: Knowing how dangerous Giovinco can be, the Union's defensive game plan revolves around keeping an eye on the 30-year-old. "The message all week was about being organized and knowing where he is at all moments," Curtin said. 

Oguchi Onyewu: Center back Ken Tribbett was torched by Toronto FC twice last season -- once in the regular season, which got him pulled from the game at halftime, and again in the postseason. On Saturday, it will be Onyewu's job to help slow down a vicious TFC attack that tortured the player Onyewu is currently ahead of on the depth chart. "He's answered everything we've asked him to do,” Curtin said.

5. This and that
• The Union are 6-6-5 all-time against Toronto FC and 4-2-2 at home against the Canadian side. 

• It’s been two years and six months since the Union defeated Toronto FC. Over that six-game winless span, the Union, who are 0-5-1 against TFC since Sept. 6, 2014, have been outscored 13-7.

• Both Ilsinho and Warren Creavalle missed last weekend’s match with injuries. Creavalle is expected to be ready on Saturday but Ilsinho, slowed by a hamstring injury, didn't begin on-field training until Thursday, which puts his selection in doubt.

Union believe they found their missing piece

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 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.”