CHESTER, Pa. — Here are three things we learned from the Philadelphia Union’s 5-0 win over the Richmond Kickers on Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup.
1. Jim Curtin Has A Good Problem With Depth In Attack
Over the last two seasons, Union manager Jim Curtin and sporting director Earnie Stewart preached the importance of squad depth. The Union relied heavily on that Tuesday night and didn’t skip a beat, as five different players found the back of the net, including David Accam and Jay Simpson, who both ended long scoring droughts.
Accam scored his first goal since Aug. 26, 2017, while Simpson’s last tally before Tuesday came in Week 2 of the 2017 season against Toronto FC.
“With those guys, they’re both very good players,” Curtin said. “Have they had some unlucky moments in their time here? For sure. David, I thought was excellent with his work rate and willingness to press, even when plays would break up for him, he was right there to win it back. He did everything we asked of him. He created a lot of dangerous chances and it’s good for him to hit the back of the net.
“Jay scored within a minute and a half of being in the game. Happy for him. He works his tail off in training. He’s a true professional. A guy that I wanted to give more opportunities to and I take the onus on that. That one’s my fault in a lot of ways. Jay’s a good player. I know that. Our players know that and our staff knows that. I’m trying to find more ways to get him opportunities. Cory’s playing well also so that’s part of the nature of pro sports. Jay’s handled it like a true professional and put in a really good showing for us.”
Curtin should find a way to integrate both players into the squad once the World Cup break concludes, especially if the Union go far in the Open Cup.
Accam struggled with his form in his first three months in a Union uniform, but his first goal for the Blue and Gold should boost his confidence.
“It felt amazing. I wanted to score my first goal for the club and today I had the chances and I’m happy I scored my first goal,” Accam said.
Simpson is in a tougher situation because he’s behind starting forward C.J. Sapong and Cory Burke, who once again impressed up top Tuesday, on the depth chart.
In the past, Curtin’s been able to get two forwards on the field in the club’s 4-2-3-1 formation by shifting Sapong or Burke out wide when he makes second-half substitutions. We could see more of the same in the coming weeks, but the battle for playing time will be fierce, with Accam battling Fafa Picault, Ilsinho and Marcus Epps for time on the wing.
2. Derrick Jones Fails To Impress
Union fans have been clamoring for the return of Homegrown midfielder Derrick Jones to the starting lineup for most of the season.
After spending the majority of his season with the club’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel, Jones earned a start next to Haris Medunjanin on Tuesday. Although he helped create Simpson’s goal at the start of the second half, Curtin wanted to see more out of the 21-year-old.
“Not a good performance from Derrick, I thought,” Curtin said. “He wasn’t sharp. He didn’t have his best night. He worked hard, but for what that game was, that game should be easy for Derrick Jones, for the quality and talent that we see in him. He was a little off. I think he worked through it. Credit to him for that.
“He made a couple nice moves to get out of trouble on the dribble, but out of your No. 8 you want more win the ball, get it to the next guy and be clean with your passes. I don’t think it was his best performance, but I do know he has the capability of raising his level as the game gets bigger so he’ll be up for discussion to start against Toronto for sure. He’s a guy I still believe in, but if you really want to talk about his individual performance, I don’t think he was the sharpest. As much talent as he has in him, I don’t think it was his best night.”
The final part of that quote is key, as Curtin still believes Jones has a chance to start next to Warren Creavalle on Friday against Toronto FC, a position that could be locked down if the appeal of Alejandro Bedoya’s second yellow card from Saturday’s loss to Atlanta United is denied.
If Jones gets another chance to impress, he should use Curtin’s comments as motivation to turn in a better performance against a higher quality opponent.
3, Trust In Young Players Continues
The Union started three teenagers on Tuesday and brought on two more as substitutes.
Mark McKenzie and Matthew Real held down a defensive line that wasn’t tested much, while Anthony Fontana contributed a goal right before halftime.
Auston Trusty replaced Fontana late in the match, while Michee Ngalina, who was signed to a short-team deal before the match from Bethlehem Steel, showed well in his second-half appearance.
The continuation of playing young talent is something Curtin has stuck behind, and it’s reaped rewards for the club over the last month.
Curtin’s confidence in his players’ abilities also rubs off on the youngsters, who respect how much is being invested in their futures.
“It’s awesome to see that the coach has confidence in me and I always work 100 percent in training,” Ngalina said through a translator. “It’s good to see that result in an appearance on the pitch.”
“Any time the coach is confident in you, it boosts your confidence so the fact that Jim and the coaching staff is able to put us out there together is a big thing,” Fontana said.