BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Head coach Veljko Paunovic is seeing a “completely different” David Accam this year, and the Chicago Fire winger’s impressive performances over the first third of the season suggest he is well on track to eclipse his productivity from previous campaigns.
The Ghanaian international has five goals and four assists through 11 games for a rejuvenated Fire, who moved up to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with Wednesday night’s comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. He’s expected to be a key cog again on Saturday, when Chicago visit D.C. United in search of their first road victory of 2017 (4 pm ET | UniMás, Facebook.com in US, MLS LIVE in Canada).
On Wednesday Accam scored for the third straight game, hammering home a rebound from a tight angle to extend the home side’s lead to 2-0 in the 57th minute. Despite being hampered by a troublesome hip issue which has required cortisone injections, the 26-year-old has logged 776 minutes in his nine starts and two substitute appearances.
He is on course to better the 10 goals and two assists he amassed in 2015 and the nine goals and five assists he managed last year, both from 24 appearances for the Men in Red.
"We appreciate that he knows that it's very important to be a part of the team and never disconnect, and I think David this year is completely different,” Paunovic said of Accam. “David is one of the players who is showing when he is fit, when he plays the role for the team like everyone has to, to work sometimes off the ball and give the team the necessary running and necessary distances in a game before he can deploy his qualities and his talent – which obviously he has a lot and we appreciate that from him.”
With the offseason additions of current MLS top scorer Nemanja Nikolic, midfielders Dax McCarty and Juninho and the more recent arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Accam has become less of a focal point of the Fire attack than he once was.
Earlier in his MLS career, the former Helsingborgs attacker was the go-to outlet for much of the Fire’s offensive play, and without sufficient quality to complement his direct play, Chicago struggled. With the burden on his shoulders lessened – and spread out among a glut of attacking quality – Accam and the Fire are flourishing.
The Fire are joint top scorers in the Eastern Conference with 20 goals, and Nikolic stands alone atop the MLS Golden Boot standings with 10 goals in his first 11 games.
"Yes, of course,” Accam said on Wednesday when asked if he was enjoying the benefits of more quality players around him. “They draw a lot of players to themselves and for me, I just need to be in a good position to be the open man to get the ball. So far, they're playing really well and creating a lot of chances for me. I'm trying to get to a good position to try to do my own thing."
Much of Chicago’s success has been built on a vastly improved possession game as well, controlling games to a greater extent than in recent years. They are also showing greater efficiency in front of goal, boasting the highest chance-completion rate in the league.
"I think this year, the biggest difference is that we keep the ball most of the time,” Accam noted when asked about the differences between this season and last. “When you keep the ball, you tire the opponents and you have a lot of space. For me, that's what we're doing best at the moment: We're just keeping the ball and try to get in open space, to an open man to play. So far, it's working for us.”