Saturday morning along the Delaware River a crowd of Union fans, media, and organizational staff alike gathered to watch what turned out to be an intense practice session at power training complex in Chester, PA. This fan friendly training session showed us a lot about this team!
David Accam is fast
Philadelphia’s newest addition, David Accam, was a full participant in training and he embraced the opportunity to enjoy an outdoor session with new teammates. Accam also had a chance to meet and greet Union fans who braved the cold.
During drills Accam’s quickness was on display. His height is not his strong suit, but not to worry. His speed is always there as a weapon on the wing. But he also possesses a great first touch, whether advancing the play or holding up play, Accam displayed a composed presence on the ball. Much like what Curtin and Sporting Director Earnie Stewart discussed at Accam’s welcome press conference.
“It’s great, I love it here. The facilities… Everything,” Accam said walking toward the Power Training Building after practice. “I never had anything like this in Chicago,” said Accam – speaking of the indoor training facility being just a short five-minute walk away from the outdoor practice fields. Just another quick walk and Accam can access the ‘Final Stage’ so to speak, Talen energy Stadium. The campus that has been developed along the river for athletes to access anytime is an attraction or perk the Philadelphia Union have created since their inception in 2008.
The practice fields were a parking lot not too long ago though. Remember? An unpaved parking lot. The organization had to give up one of the scarce lots they themselves own, and further lose out on parking revenue, just to construct their own practice facilities. Remember? Never mind.
Jim Curtin welcomed fans
About a minute after 10 Head Coach Jim Curtin stepped forward and asked if those who gathered to move in a huddle, so he could address them and welcome them to training.
His remarks aimed to educate the fans on top of greeting them and thanking them for attending despite the unkind weather. Educate as in explain how the roster is set up currently, how the session will be run – including the purpose of each drill, and the team’s future as they prepare to travel south for the first of two trips to sunny Clearwater, FL prior to March.
Curtin closed by acknowledging the absence of three of the Union’s most prominent players. Alejandro Bedoya is currently in Miami for a family wedding (congratulations!), and both CJ Sapong (#USMNT) and Haris Medunjanin (Bosnia-Herzegovina) are in Los Angeles, CA for an international friendly. However, the absence of new Union homegrown left back Matt Real was never acknowledged.
Two teams one unit
For those unfamiliar, Philadelphia and many other MLS clubs run preseason in the same way the Philadelphia Phillies and MLB clubs do. They both combine their squads MLS+USL / MLB+AAA+AA,etc. and see what shakes out.
Saturday morning was a unique opportunity for fans to see both Bethlehem Steel FC players competing against the first team players. Just to be clear the small sided games and the larger scrimmage that followed were not soft, cupcake games. Guys were bumping bodies, diving, sliding, and flat-out battling at times.
Competitiveness is something head coach Curtin has preached about in the past. He wants to see every player at their highest level at all times. In fact, Curtin explained the GPS trackers the players wear around their chests. “In the past, guys used to be able to hide in the corners and maybe take a practice off here and there. But now there’s no hiding anymore,” Curtin joked as he explained the GPS tracker’s ability to record player’s heart rates and how many sprints they made among other analytical measures to track players throughout the year.
The highlight of the scrimmage – though there were a handful of other moments where “ohhs and Ahhs” were elicited – occurred when Andre Blake made a diving save with one hand to deny a bending ball destined for the back corner of goal. His athleticism is unmatched.
Autographs, Handshakes, Interviews, and selfies
Following the session Curtin once again briefly addressed the crowd. He invited them to step forward to form a line. The players then went down the line and greeted each and every fan that attended. Fans took photos and received autographs. Some players including the always delightful Ray Gaddis stopped and talked with fans leaving many laughing as he went down the row.
There were an impressive number of youngsters on hand to watch the team practice. They were able to see their favorite players in-person, which is always a memorable experience for any kid.
Auston Trusty answered a few questions for Philly Sports Network as he was kind enough to share some time.
“Now is my time to shine. The coaches here all have faith in me. If I have the opportunity I’m going to take advantage of it – that’s my mindset,” explained Trusty when asked of his new opportunity this season.
Trusty has significant soccer experience but lacks professional time. Philadelphia’s back line as a whole is quite young, except for longtime veteran Fabinho. Richie Marquez is considered the ‘veteran’ of the central defense grouping with five years pro ball in his past. When asked about his youth Trusty acknowledged former teammate Oguchi Onyewu as someone he learned from.
“I can take the knowledge from guys like that and take that with me. It’s now our [fellow rookies] time to shine,” said Trusty.
The path forward for the 2018 Philadelphia Union consists of two tours in Clearwater, FL and countless hours of training in preparation for March and the 2018 campaign. With youth on their side, Philadelphia look to turn the page on last year’s team with a rejuvenated outlook.
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports