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Q&A: Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart talks Accam, homegrowns

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Local media caught up with Stewart after the David Accam trade and asked him about the plans for the Union going forward

Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart talks to reporters at the 2018 MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia
Trey Madara

Local reporters caught up with Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart at the draft and asked him a few questions about the trade with the Chicago Fire for David Accam, the lack of draft picks in the first two rounds and what the signing of two homegrown players to contracts means for the future of the club and the Academy.

The questions below were asked by Joe Tansey, Jonathan Tannenwald, and Matt De George, and here is a transcript of the Q&A.

(Editor’s Note: um’s, uh’s, etc, were left out in the interest of readability)

Question: How did these discussions come about and how intriguing of a player was Accam to suit [The Union]?

Earnie Stewart: Well, as we had said awhile back, we’re trying to find some difference makers for our team to help us over the humps in certain games that we have. You know, being in games during most of the season but sometimes never getting to that point where we have comfort in keeping a lead or keeping a tie on the board, and we believe that with a couple of difference makers that could help us. Once David Accam came around that it was really clear that to us that we wanted to make sure that happened and I think that we as the Philadelphia Union stretched ourselves to make sure that this type of player came aboard and just very pleased overall that we were able to accomplish this.

Q: You talked about stretching yourself to go and get this deal done, given having the additional pot of targeted allocation money on the table that teams can go out and purchase, did you guys purchase some of that for this transaction?

ES: So there is, you know don’t want to go too much into it, but there is obviously the discretionary spend that we had and obviously with the beginning of December when the targeted allocation money came available, it’s all about looking at the right mechanism to make sure you can get these deals done. There’s a lot involved in having this deal done and we used that pot as well.

Q: Did Chicago signal that he was available or did you guys go and get him?

ES: You know, Chris (Albright) does his due diligence and making sure that throughout the year that you’re connecting up and down and who called who first, that would be up in the air but I do know that from a scouting perspective he’s always been on our list, if that was someone we would be able to target we would absolutely do that and it [a deal] became available as one until we thought the way that we did that and in a manner we could get him that it was really good and so we jumped on it.

Q: In measuring an impact player, how much do you weigh a player like Accam who has proven he can do it in MLS versus trying to go on the open market and get someone from a different league who is unfamiliar with MLS, how do you kind of weigh those factors?

ES: So, that comes down to, in the end, when you’re making those decisions together, that does weigh in a big deal because you know what you have, because this is a player that has been in this league, has done fantastic when you look at his goals and assists, he brings speed to our forwards and that is a major decision. If you can get a player like that in your own market, knowing what he can do, yes that plays a major role.

Q: Before this deal even came about, how much of a search were you guys on for these difference makers and how much progress was made, whether it be in league or abroad?

ES: As long as these things go, we don’t talk much beforehand, so when it comes along, it’s there. There is a lot of process that goes into these deals, not only by myself, Jim, and Chris, but a lot of people who work behind the scenes, Kyle (McCarthy) and Terry (McFadden). There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes except that we don’t talk much before things happen.

Q: In terms of before [the deal for] Accam ever came about, were there other players you guys were looking at that possibly fill that [role]?

ES: Yeah, when you look at our team and everything and our scouting the way we’re trying to build that up, and progress in that, for every position there is numerous targets. And then you have to wait on the markets. One, that there is a draft coming up, and there is some tension, everything becomes a little more fluid, and you have the European market, which closes on the 31st of January, and then you have the Asian and Russian markets that close even later. So it’s all making sure that you make the most for your money that you have and waiting for those moments and to pounce on that. There’s more for every position.

Q: Does giving the Designated Player slot [affect] the calculus for other moves you might make this winter?

ES: No, not as we’ve calculated for ourselves. The number 10 position and the winger position were the most important we would have to target, we kind of had our draft yesterday with Matthew Real and Mark McKenzie signing for us, so we were more focused on those players that could make an impact for us. We achieved one, and we’re going to keep going.

Q: Is there an update on any potential search for a number 10?

ES: No, and even if there was, I wouldn’t share that.

Recent homegrown signings Mark McKenzie (left) and Matthew Real at the 2018 MLS SuperDraft

Q: On McKenzie and Real, how happy are you that they’ve made this progress to this point?

ES: I mean, this is what we’re about. Apart from signing David today, as we’ve spoken about over the last two years, the Philadelphia Union and developing players and making sure that we believe in young players and give them the chance and opportunity to shine, and having both these players follow that pathway, being in the Academy, playing games for the Bethlehem Steel a little different for both of them. Matthew Real signed and Mark McKenzie did that as an amateur, went to school, and then signed a homegrown deal with the first team is who we are, this is what we try to do, so very pleased that they signed and obviously very pleased with the signing of David Accam today.

Q: How was it not having a draft pick in the first two rounds?

ES: It’s a bit different than it was, but this is something we knew beforehand and once again, the way we work at the Philadelphia Union and having the Academy that we have and the pathway to the pros that we have, that’s how I look at a draft as well. We also had the opportunity, at least that’s what I read, that we were going to buy up, that was never really a consideration because we look at those kids we have in the Academy, when I’m at a draft, that’s what I look for. You have a lot of players that are 21, 22 years old and we have kids that are 18, 19 that are coming through. You make that comparison and make choices off of that. One part is fun, I think that the draft that is something that is in the United States, it’s unique, it’s fun, but at the same time, we have this Academy and an engine in trying to develop players, so that was our draft.

Q: When you, Tommy and Chris Brewer go out and try to sell the vision of what you want this development pathway to be, how important is it that you can say not only have we signed guys like Matt and Mark, Matt’s from Drexel Hill, Mark’s from Delaware, they’re from here and they’re able to do this?

ES: Very important. But in the end, and everything that it’s about, at one point these talents need to start making minutes in the first team and making sure that there is a pathway there is one but two, creating opportunities for these players to make these important minutes and finally being an impact player is still something that we have to prove, but I think we’re on the right path, the right way, and making sure that everyone knows who we’re about and what we’re about is important in everything, no matter what company you are.

Q: I know you’ve mentioned the 10 and a winger, are there any other specific positions you are targeting?

ES: No, because if you look at our roster, what we have right now, we’re very balanced, we were very balanced in what we did and the 10 and the winger were the upgrades that we wanted to do and, once again, David is the winger.

Q: Maybe more than one if you feel like it?

ES: No, no, you have to stretch as far as you can go and we have things available and we’ll use that, but there’s not gonna be a lot more coming in, no.

Q: Do you guys anticipate bringing in a veteran centerback? I know you guys have a lot of center backs, but they’re all on the younger side.

ES: No, not right now, no. Like I said, once you choose for something, and you have the engine that we have with the Academy, you have to give a pathway for those players as well to make important minutes, so we’re gonna have some players dive in, swim, and they’re gonna stay afloat.