CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union made yet another tough, but sensible move at the end of the Major League Soccer transfer window late Tuesday night.
By trading David Accam to the Columbus Crew, the Union gained more roster flexibility for the future and allowed Accam to receive more playing time in a system that better suits his strengths.
Even though Accam was healthy, he fell down the depth chart due to the successful spurts from Kacper Przybylko, Cory Burke, Fafa Picault and, most recently, Sergio Santos in Saturday’s 6-1 win over New England.
Since scoring three goals in the final two games of March, Accam totaled 164 minutes in four appearances.
“It is quite usual when the transfer window ends, you get requests,” Union sporting director Ernst Tanner said. “We got the request and David formerly mentioned that he would like to play more. He started two games out of 11, which is not much.”
As someone who needs to get consistent playing time to work back into form, Accam couldn’t continue to sit on the Union’s bench and make substitute appearances.
Accam has proven throughout his MLS career that he can be a starter who is capable of producing at a high level.
No matter which role he was going to fill with the Union, it seemed like an odd fit once the club shifted to a 4-4-2 diamond style that relies on the full backs to take on the responsibilities of wingers, instead of pacy midfielders operating as wingers.
“(Accam)’s a winger and now our outside backs are playing more like wingers, coming from the back and opening up in space instead of occupying that space with a typical winger,” Tanner said.
On occasion, the Union have altered their approach to a 4-2-3-1 to fit with the players on the field, but it is no longer the club’s go-to formation.
Picault was able to make the transition to forward, and his pressing style helped the adjustment up top from the wing.
Santos is a pure striker who has displayed his excellent pace and finishing ability in the short time he’s been on the field, while Przybylko has put pressure on the net in each of his three starts.
In addition to being the fourth striker on the depth chart, Accam wasn’t going to be guaranteed minutes with Marco Fabian back at full strength.
Fabian has been used as a second striker, and should play in that role at times with Brenden Aaronson having so much success at the attacking tip of the diamond in the No. 10 role.
The Union have a crowded midfield with five quality players. Even if Aaronson or Fabian started on the bench, they would be considered better fits as substitutes than Accam.
By going to Columbus, where wingers are valued in Caleb Porter’s system, Accam is able to play more and become the consistent contributor he was during his three years with the Chicago Fire.
The Crew will use Accam as a replacement for Justin Meram, who was shipped to Atlanta United during Tuesday’s trade cycle, on their depth chart.
Accam should combine well with the Crew’s full backs and connect up top with Gyasi Zardes, who desperately needs a secondary scorer to back him up in the goals department.
From the Union’s perspective, the return is about as good as it can be. They were never going to get back the over $1 million traded for Accam in 2018, but $500,000 in allocation money is massive for a club looking to utilize every penny of its allotted funds in a smart manner.
“(Making trades with teams in conference is) always a concern because you don’t want to make your opponents stronger necessarily, but at the same time, we have to look at what we’re going to do in the future,” Tanner said. “The (MLS) system doesn’t allow you much so you have to create before you can do something.”
The direct use of the allocation money brought in from the Crew will go to securing the services of Jamiro Monteiro on a permanent basis during the offseason. Monteiro’s four-month loan from French side Metz expires at the end of June and the Union have the option to extend it for the rest of the season.
“For instance, we did the trade for C.J. (Sapong to Chicago) in order to bring in Jamiro,” Tanner said. “Now the flexibility we are getting out of this will help us keep Jamiro for the rest of the season.
“It is clear we want to keep Jamiro and that is in our hands. We need to have the flexibility for that. We can trigger the option for the second half of the season.”
The international spot also plays a major role in the Union’s squad building. The club now has nine international spots for 10 available internationals.
Since Cory Burke won’t count toward the international spots while he is working through his visa issues in Jamaica, the Union will have spots on their matchday squad for all but one of Fabian, Monteiro, Przybylko, Santos, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Haris Medunjanin, Carlos Miguel Coronel, Kai Wagner and the recently-signed Michee Ngalina.
For the first two months of the season, the Union had to loan one of their injured international players to USL Championship side Bethlehem Steel in order to meet roster requirements.
“It is not a question about stocking up in general. It is about increasing quality,” Tanner said. “That was also an important part of the deal with Columbus that we could get an international spot. That increases our flexibility even more.”
The Union will have to sort out the issue again when Burke becomes eligible, but for now, they are in good shape for MLS play.
When the U.S. Open Cup rolls around, the Union will have to do some roster gymnastics, but they are already prepared for what they may encounter in six weeks.
The final grade of the trade will be determined in a bit of time, but on the surface, it appears like everyone involved will benefit from it.