Union

Union get 'creative' to acquire Adam Najem, a coveted college talent

Union get 'creative' to acquire Adam Najem, a coveted college talent

A year ago, the Union pulled off a heist at the MLS SuperDraft, snagging a trio of players in Keegan Rosenberry, Joshua Yaro and Fabian Herbers that they can very well build their team around for the next decade.

This year’s draft was a lot quieter for the Union, who had previously traded away their first-round pick in a deal that helped them acquire standout midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.

But thanks to Wednesday’s acquisition of Adam Najem, the club feels like it still enters the 2017 MLS season with one of the best players in college soccer over the past four years.

“It gives us a top-tier draft class with the addition of Adam to that group,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said in a call with reporters. “Last year we were rewarded for [sporting director Earnie Stewart] being very aggressive and creative in the draft room. This year Earnie and [technical director Chris Albright] were also creative to get Adam Najem.”

Curtin said Najem may have landed in the top five of this year’s draft had he been eligible. But since he was part of the New York Red Bulls’ academy, he bypassed the draft because of Homegrown rules. At that point, the Union put the wheels in motion to reel him in — which they accomplished after acquiring his right of first refusal from the Red Bulls in exchange for a second-round pick in next year’s draft. 

“We were excited to get the deal done,” Curtin said. “He’s a very talented player who’s excited to wear the Philadelphia Union uniform. He’s been showing his worth in the preseason and is a great addition to the group.”

Najem certainly showed his talent at the collegiate level, scoring 33 goals and logging 29 assists over his four-year career at the University of Akron. He was a second-team NSCAA All-American in 2015 and a third-team All-American in 2016 and was the MAC Player of the Year as a senior.

Before that, the midfielder was ranked as the No. 1 recruit in New Jersey, where he led the Red Bulls’ U-16 team to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy national championship in 2012.  

“He scores a lot of goals in practice and he scored a lot of goals in college as well,” Curtin said. “He has that skillset you can’t always teach or coach. Some guys just have a knack around the goal. I think Adam falls into that category.”

After first meeting with him, Curtin found Najem to be an “intelligent, humble and quiet kid” but someone “who makes a lot of noise” when he gets on the field. In addition to his goal-scoring ability, the diminutive midfielder also is a “a really clever player” who sees “one or two passes ahead,” Curtin said.

“He’s a great kid and I hope he has a great career with the Philadelphia Union,” the coach added. “It’s incredible to bring him on board.” 

Although all three of the Union’s top rookies saw significant playing time last season — with Rosenberry and Herbers emerging as two of the best rookies in the league — it may be a little tougher for Najem to get on the field in 2017.

The Union have a crowded midfield and are just now wrapping up a busy offseason that recently included signing second-round draft pick Marcus Epps, speedy winger Fafa Picault and playmaking central midfielder Haris Medunjanin.

The club is still looking to add a third-string goalkeeper behind Andre Blake and John McCarthy and may soon decide to move some of its other late-round draft picks to USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC. But other than that, its roster seems just about complete with the start of the regular season less than a month away.

And it’s almost certainly the deepest roster in franchise history with Curtin admitting there will be some “unhappy guys” who won’t even be able to make the 18-man gameday lineup this year.

“Earnie and Chris have done a really great job this offseason retooling our group,” the Union coach said. “I don’t think we lost a ton outside Tranquillo [Barnetta] in the offseason and we replace it on paper with a stronger roster. Nothing is won on paper, I’m not going to get ahead of myself. But it is a deeper group — a team that I think can compete into the playoffs and push past that first round.”

Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

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Union's U.S. Open Cup dominance continues against Red Bulls

CHESTER, Pa. — Alejandro Bedoya and Cory Burke led the way Saturday night, as the Union eliminated the New York Red Bulls from the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win at Talen Energy Stadium in the Round of 16.

"It was a very good win against a very good team," said Union manager Jim Curtin. "Survive and advance mentality. We’re three wins away from a trophy, which is something to be proud of."

After taking down the Richmond Kickers to open the tournament, the Union’s victory Saturday sends them to the quarterfinals on July 18, where they will host either regional foes DC United or Orlando City.

• The win was a continuation of an eye-popping 12-match Open Cup unbeaten streak for the Union, who haven’t suffered a regulation loss since 2014. When it comes to the Open Cup, the Union are hard to beat, which they showed against the Red Bulls. 

• Despite it being an Open Cup game, the match had MLS regular-season flavor. The Red Bulls hit the field with a strong starting lineup that included Tyler Adams, Kaku and Luis Robles. In return, the Union dressed Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Andre Blake and Ilsinho.

• Those lineup decisions made for an exciting but fruitless opening half. Both teams worked to strike on the counter by using pressure to jar the ball loose. Led by Fafa Picault, the back-and-forth equalled 17 total shots, with the Union claiming eight of their 11 attempts from inside the box. 

• Eventually, the Union those attempts would begin going in. In the 52nd minute, the Union took the 1-0 lead, when working down the right side into Red Bulls territory, Bedoya cut to the middle and slid possession over to Medunjanin. The veteran faked out his defender and ripped a shot that appeared to deflect and beat Robles.

• The goal seemed to unlock something in the Union. Nearly 10-minutes later, Burke made it 2-0 when a Bedoya pass found him between two defenders. Burke, who had been on the doorstep of a goal all night, broke away and slipped his shot to the right. Bedoya finished with two assists. 

"He’s playing at his highest level for us," Curtin said. "He’s taken a bigger leadership role and tonight was an excellent game from him. Our team will go as our central midfield goes." 

• To catch up, the Red Bulls called on some heavy artillery. In the 60th minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips subbed in for Daniel Royer. He scored in the 77th minute, cutting the Union’s defense, then the lead, in half.

• The Union look to carry Open Cup momentum into the MLS regular season, when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 23 at Talen Energy Stadium.

Union see U.S. winning 2026 World Cup bid as 'inflection point' of American soccer

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Union see U.S. winning 2026 World Cup bid as 'inflection point' of American soccer

CHESTER, Pa. — For Jim Curtin, Alejandro Bedoya and everyone else associated with American soccer, the pain of missing the World Cup remains fresh, especially as the tournament kicks off this week.

But Wednesday’s announcement that the United States, in a joint bid with North American neighbors Canada and Mexico, won the vote to host the 2026 World Cup not only eased a lot of that pain but also gave them a whole lot of hope for the future of the sport.

“Obviously this year everybody talks about the big setback and the generation of kids that can’t turn on the TV this go-round and watch the U.S.,” Curtin said during the Union coach’s weekly press conference. “It does hurt the game a bit, for sure, but to now have the World Cup in our home country is something that I think is incredible to grow the game. There’s nothing quite like seeing a World Cup match live. I think that will be a great experience for young kids, a great experience for our country.”

As for Bedoya, the Union captain will probably never get over the U.S. national team’s recent World Cup failure, especially since he played a prominent role at the 2014 World Cup and during this past qualifying cycle before watching from the bench in horror as the Americans were stunned by Trinidad and Tobago last October to miss out on Russia 2018. 

And given his age, the 31-year-old midfielder will be past his prime for the next World Cup in Qatar, and possibly retired when the World Cup comes to North America in eight years. Even still, it’s nice to think about what hosting the 2026 World Cup could mean for the growth of the sport he loves.

“Hopefully by that time, 2026, it’s like the inflection point of soccer in our country,” Bedoya said. “The sport keeps growing, the league keeps getting better. From my time in Europe, I know all of the European guys would love to play in this league, live in America and play here. It’s only a matter of time before soccer continues to take over, let’s say, hockey in the ratings and viewership and attendance. So it’s a big moment we officially got it for our country.”

Curtin agrees the sport has already grown a lot since the last time the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, pointing to increased television coverage of MLS and the big European leagues as well as, more locally, the kids he spots in his Philadelphia neighborhood wearing Bedoya or Lionel Messi jerseys.

He can only imagine how much bigger it will get if Lincoln Financial Field is selected as one of the venues for the 2026 World Cup — and also what that would mean for Philly, a city that he says has a “lot of buzz” right now in a lot of different ways.

“Specifically to Philadelphia, this is a soccer town,” the Union coach said. “There’s a rich history here. It’s tough to predict what 2026 will look like, but to think a team could be using this campus down here [in Chester] as kind of their home base, whether it’s Argentina or Spain or who knows what country, that’s a really good thing to envision.

“It’s great for the game. There’s a lot of happy faces throughout soccer in our country right now.”