Union

Union-Sounders thoughts: Taking on the defending champs

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CSN

Union-Sounders thoughts: Taking on the defending champs

Seattle Sounders (12-8-11) at Union (9-13-9)
1 p.m. on ESPN

CHESTER, Pa. — With three games left in the season, the Union are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention.

But that won’t stop them from wanting to put on a good show for the home fans against Clint Dempsey and the reigning champs.

Here are some thoughts on the Union’s penultimate game at Talen Energy Stadium:

• The Union are coming off a 3-0 midweek loss in Atlanta, which dropped their road record to a dismal 1-9-6. But the team has been pretty good at home this season, sporting an 8-4-3 mark. If they can beat Seattle or Orlando in their home finale, they’d set a club record for most home wins in a season.

• Another record that could be set: the individual single-season scoring record. CJ Sapong is currently tied with Sebastien Le Toux for the most goals all-time with 14.

• The Union enter the weekend in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and could be eliminated from the playoff race before their kickoff if the New York Red Bulls beat Toronto on Saturday. If not, a loss or draw to Seattle would officially knock them out.

“We haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet but we are realistic in where we are in the table,” Curtin said. “All we can do is try to win our last three games and see what happens from there. Guys are playing for pride, they’re playing for our home fans, they’re playing to break a record, as small as it sounds, for most home wins. Little things like that can motivate guys.”

• The Sounders, winners of the 2016 MLS Cup, are fresh off a big 3-0 win over West-leading Vancouver and can clinch a playoff spot this weekend. Curtin said he isn’t sure if Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer will rest any players with the quick turnaround and cross-country flight but he said they’re preparing for “their best lineup.”

• While Jordan Morris, one of the best young American players, is out with a hamstring injury, the Union will likely see Dempsey, one of the best American players ever. Curtin said it’s a big deal any time a player of his stature comes to town, and he’s wary of the challenge Dempsey presents.

“He’s a guy they played as a No. 9 in their last game, which was something a little different,” the Union coach said. “But he still has the freedom to go all over the place. He’s not just gonna stand between the two center backs. So our challenge with Clint is his unpredictability — he pops out right, out left, he comes deep for the ball. So we’ll have our hands full.

“He’s a special player and they have some other special players around them in [Nicolas] Lodeiro and a core of good experienced defenders.”

• Dempsey and Union captain Alejandro Bedoya will likely join forces after the game for two massive U.S. national team games vs. Panama on Oct. 6 and Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, with a trip to next summer’s World Cup on the line. The Union won’t have any games during the international break, next playing at Chicago on Oct. 15.

“You always want to have a good performance, to have a good taste in your mouth when going into a long break,” Curtin said.

• Although he’s been reluctant to play some of his more untested youngsters, even as the team has fallen out of the playoff race, Curtin said midfielders Derrick Jones and Adam Najem will be “in the discussion for this weekend, for sure” thanks to strong recent performances with USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC.

“It is likely they’ll be rewarded,” the Union coach said. “Maybe it’s being in the 18 and hopefully they can work their way into the starting lineup by the end of the year.”

• Two starters in Wednesday’s match vs. Atlanta are questionable after picking up injuries in the game: defensive midfielder Warren Creavalle (hamstring) and right back Keegan Rosenberry (ankle).

• The Union have an interesting history with Seattle, facing them in their first-ever game in 2010 (a loss in Seattle) and their first-ever game at Talen Energy Stadium a few months later (a win). They also met them in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup championship match — a thrilling game that ended in a heartbreaking extra-time loss for Philly with Dempsey netting the winning goal.

• Aside from the Open Cup loss, the Union are undefeated at home against Seattle, going 2-0-2 against them in league play at Talen Energy Stadium.

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.”