CHESTER, Pa.– After a week chock full of international absences, injuries, an additional red-card suspension to Marco Fabian and the unknown availability of Jamiro Monteiro, the Philadelphia Union fielded a 16-man lineup on Saturday night.
The squad pieced together by manager Jim Curtin controlled the match with the Columbus Crew and left the field with the club’s first victory of the 2019 season.
“It was a week that was probably the most unique of my coaching career in terms of not knowing player availability,” Curtin said. “We probably had four to five different lineups selected and were training them during the course of the week, hoping for the best scenario, and we got the absolute worst scenario in terms of who we were missing.”
The Union’s forward depth shined through in the form of David Accam’s brace, while the defense turned in its best showing of the young campaign by holding the Crew to one shot on goal.
Below are the three biggest takeaways from Saturday’s 3-0 Union victory.
1. Fully Fit Accam Takes Advantage of Opportunity
Since Accam’s big-money arrival from the Chicago Fire, Union fans have been clamoring for him to make a significant impact on the field.
After he was hampered by a sports hernia injury, which he got surgery for at the end of the 2018 season, Accam proved on Saturday he’s ready to be a fully fit contributor for the Union.
“Everything is in the past now,” Accam said. “I’m just looking forward to playing again and I’m feeling much better. I had a good preseason and I just want to get the chance on the field and do work on the pitch.”
“We’re all rooting for David,” Curtin said. “He’s gone through a lot on the field and off the field. For him to have a performance like tonight, when we really needed it as a team, was big time. He really stepped up, not just because he scored two goals, but his work rate defensively I thought on the counter-attack giving us time to breathe. Just a really top performance from David.”
Accam, who recorded his second multiple-goal game in Major League Soccer, displayed a few bursts of pace and technical ability in the buildup to his pair of first-half tallies.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 24, 2019
While Accam’s performance was important in the short term to earn the Union three points, it also carried meaning in the long term as the Union build up a striker group with oodles of pace and in-form finishing ability.
If Accam continues to take advantage of his opportunities in the starting XI, he’ll force Curtin to make some difficult selection decisions.
“(Accam)’s a true professional and overall a good person so he wants well for everyone,” Union forward Fafa Picault said. “When somebody’s like that on your team, you want the best for them as well. He comes in, works hard and does his job. Today it wasn’t a question of who scored, it was just important we got the three points. We were happy he got his two goals after such a long stint of not getting minutes.”
An in-form Accam could lead to Curtin playing him over Picault, Cory Burke or Sergio Santos, or make the manager tweak his tactics, especially at home, by using Accam on the flank of an aggressive three-forward system.
2. Kai Wagner Has Hold On Starting Spot At Left Back
All Kai Wagner has done since joining the Union from the third division in Germany is force his way into the starting lineup and become the Union’s most consistent player through four games.
Wagner was part of a left-sided attack that neutralized the threat of Columbus right back Harrison Afful, and he also held firm when the Crew attacked down his side of the field.
“Tonight we were able to limit Columbus’ opportunities,” Curtin said. “We started in the game plan to deal with (Federico) Higuain and how he floats around the field and also, it sounds unique, but the right back Afful is one of the most dangerous attackers our league has. Making (Afful) defend is the best defense for us, but then also tracking him, doing a good job making it a hard night for him.”
In total, Wagner recorded four tackles, two clearances and an interception and he hardly made a wrong move as the Union earned their first clean sheet of the season.
The emergence of Wagner on the left flank speaks to the eye for talent sporting director Ernst Tanner has, and it unfortunately means Matt Real won’t get much MLS playing time before he departs for the U20 World Cup in May.
3. Medunjanin Turns In Best Game of Season
Much was made about Haris Medunjanin’s defensive lapses over the first three games, but throughout the hard times, Curtin and Tanner were both supportive of the Bosnian midfielder.
Medunjanin proved his worth in both facets of the game on Saturday, as he was the most active Union player on the ball with 83 touches, earned a secondary assist on Accam’s first goal and made five interceptions.
The World Cup veteran thrived because the Union were in complete control of the match and the Crew didn’t put him under pressure with counter-attacking play.
Not every game will be like Saturday’s contest, which is why it’s still worth watching Medunjanin’s play with a close eye, but once Jamiro Monteiro receives clearance to play, there should be more cover and balance in the Union’s diamond midfield.
With Monteiro filling the box-to-box role out of either the No. 6 position, or one of the sides of the diamond, Medunjanin won’t be one of the last lines of defense on the counter, and his deficiencies will be exploited less.