David Accam has begun to open up the playbook.
Since his return from a knee injury that sidelined him for two months, Chicago’s Designated Player has been on an offensive tear that has again made him one of the most feared attacking players in MLS. Entering Friday's home test vs. San Jose (7 p.m. CT, UniMas), the Ghanaian international has netted five goals and an assist in his last five games across league and U.S. Open Cup play, giving him seven goals in nine appearances this season.
But in a slight shift from his debut 2015 season and even earlier this year, Accam -- now allowed to operate almost exclusively up top rather than on the wing -- is hurting opposing teams in ways that go beyond simply out-pacing his defender in the open field. Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said as much Tuesday night, expressing a belief that Crew SC did well to manage Accam’s speed but still saw him find net on two occasions.
“The first (goal), fantastic shot, great quality,” Berhalter said. “The second one wasn’t about his speed, it was about our positioning in the penalty box. He’s dangerous, you know he’s going to get some opportunities and you try to limit that. Two goals, it looked like he had a great game, but in my eyes the guys did a good job.”
Accam’s 2016 campaign opened much like last, running beyond the NYCFC back line time and again on Opening Day before torching Orlando City SC’s Seb Hines for a goal in week two.
There is still plenty of that, to be sure, as the Philadelphia Union learned in the second minute of Chicago’s June 22 match at Talen Energy Stadium.
But Accam also has dug deeper into his bag of tricks recently, perhaps most impressively when he curled a blast around Crew SC’s Brad Stuver to open the scoring in Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup victory.
Later in the half, Accam netted his brace when he found space among Crew SC defenders to latch onto Rodrigo Ramos’ service and turned in a casual one-touch finish. The ability to move off the ball and shed defenders in the penalty area was a skill he also flashed when he was in the right spot to finish a feed from Kennedy Igboananike in the 1-1 draw with Portland on May 28.
Accam has also shown a willingness to set up his teammates and drop a ball into space on command, as he did in Colorado with the cross that led to Joey Calistri’s 81st-minute equalizer.
"We said that David's quality and how important for his confidence his plays are for the team, we've always said that,” Veljko Paunovic told reporters after Accam’s two-goal effort on Tuesday. “He is more and more quality and he is very good at finishing, so this is how we build. So we're very happy. David, I think, is very aware of his body, he manages very well the load of the games.”
As Accam begins to creep into the conversation of the club’s all-time goal-scoring ledgers -- his 17 goals in 35 competitions have him within striking distance of Lubos Kubik and Cuauhtémoc Blanco, tied for 16th with 19 apiece -- he'll enjoy the ongoing integration of chance-creators like John Goossens and Michael de Leeuw into the Fire attack.
"We missed him, he's one of our creative players, and I'm really happy we have him back on the pitch,” Accam said Tuesday of Goossens, whose work in the midfield set up Accam’s first goal of the night. “We need the midfielders to feed us good balls, and today, Goossens did that. Hopefully, he continues it."
Not surprisingly, the feeling is mutual for Goossens.
"It was really easy for me once I got the ball between (Columbus’) midfield and their defensive line,” Goossens said. “I had all the time to turn and to look for the two fast guys, David and Kennedy. David scored two amazing goals. If you have somebody with speed like that, and he's playing really well, every time you have the ball, you just have to look for those guys, and they will take care of it."