PHILADELPHIA – You may not agree with all their moves, but you can never accuse Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and head coach Veljko Paunovic of being afraid to make a bold deal.
Since they took over ahead of the 2016 season, Rodriguez and Paunovic have consistently put themselves – and their club – out on the farthest of limbs. They traded No. 1 overall pick Jack Harrison to New York City FC in their first weeks on the job, shipped the No. 3 spot in the draft to NYCFC in 2017, then spent significantly to land Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the early part of last season.
On Friday, they may have made their most daring deal yet. Chicago traded star winger David Accam to the Philadelphia Union in exchange for $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and $300,000 in General Allocation Money.
“In the past, we said actually that we are going to be unpredictable,” Paunovic told reporters on Friday. “In this case, it’s not only on the field, but off the field.”
Accam was excellent in three seasons in Chicago, recording 33 goals and 15 assists in 78 regular season appearances with the club. 2017 was his best season, with the Ghanaian tallying 14 goals and eight assists in 30 matches to help Chicago return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Sources told MLSsoccer.com last week that Chicago were nearing a new deal with the 27-year-old, whose contract was set to expire at the end of 2018. A Union source went a step further on Thursday, telling MLSsoccer.com that Accam is under contract with the club beyond 2018. A separate source added that Chicago will get a percentage of any transfer fee if the Union or any other MLS club sell Accam at any point before the start of 2021.
That’s a major haul, but trading Accam – who, it should be noted, had a weeks-long clash with the Fire around the All-Star Game last season – also creates a major hole at Toyota Park. His numbers were among the best for MLS wingers in 2017, and he poses a major problem for every opposing defense in the league.
His game, however, isn’t all that varied. He’s mostly a straight-ahead winger, using his fantastic pace to race behind defenders and get in on goal. That worked well in 2017, but Chicago felt it made them a little too one-dimensional, particularly during their late-season struggles.
Rodriguez said the team are currently pursuing three attackers from foreign leagues, though made clear that no signings are imminent. He added that the Fire would only be able to fit one or two of the players onto their roster; signing all three targets would be impossible under the MLS roster rules.
Landing any of the targets, Paunovic said, would make Chicago more versatile in 2018.
“We are looking for the guys that can understand the way we want to play, the way we are creating opportunity, how we want to control and dominate the game and at the same time how we can switch to different formation and surprise our opponents with that,” he said.
“To be honest, we are very excited for what is coming for us,” he added later. “I believe that this is going to be an opportunity for us to improve our style to the next level and that’s what we are looking for.”
For Philadelphia, who initially inquired about Accam early this offseason before talks got serious this week at the Combine in Orlando, the trade was less complicated. The Union had a hole on the wing with Chris Pontius hitting the free agent market; acquiring Accam filled that and then some. Head coach Jim Curtin said that Accam told him on Friday that he’s excited to join Philadelphia, where he’ll immediately become one of the best attackers in the Union’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
They could still use a little help in the middle underneath striker CJ Sapong, but the Union are in a much better place now than they were on Friday morning. They paid a hefty price for Accam, but, as both Curtin and sporting director Earnie Stewart noted to the media, they likely would have had to spend at least as much for a comparable player on the international transfer market. Any foreign signing would have had to adjust, as well. In Accam, they’re getting much more of a sure thing, at least in MLS terms.
The Fire need to replace the dangerous winger, but, as we’ve seen time and time again with Rodriguez and Paunovic, they won’t shoehorn in an attempted quick fix. They’ll make their move when they feel it’s right, even if they have to be bold again and wait until the summer.
“There’s an element of risk to the trade. David is an accomplished and quality player who’s still in the prime of his career,” Rodriguez said. “But we set out to build a championship program. We believe in what’s required to fulfill that. We think the next evolution of what we’re trying to build required a bold move and these assets that we’ve acquired give us an opportunity to accelerate towards our goal. As I said, that production won’t be easy to replace, but we did what we felt was necessary.”