CHESTER, Pa. -- The losses are piling up and the frustration is building rapidly for the punchless Union, who rank second-to-last in the Eastern Conference with a stunning 2-5-1 record.
And while a midweek friendly interruption, just like what the Union faces on Wednesday at PPL Park against Bundesliga club, Schalke 04, may typically come as an unwanted distraction for the struggling Union, this one comes as an opportunity to get some work in and take a mental break before Sundays crucial game against Eastern Conference rival New York Red Bulls.
Ill let them play and give some players 45 minutes and some 90 minutes, to let them make a good run, said coach Peter Nowak, back from a two-game suspension. But when the league game starts on Sunday, thats the game we are looking forward to.
Without Danny Califf, who is still struggling with a hamstring injury, Chris Albright, Zac Macmath and potentially Freddy Adu and Gabriel Gomez, the Union will be fielding a team of youngsters against the German powerhouse. Schalke recently finished its season, 20-10-4, and will also be also presenting a young and largely unknown roster.
Its no secret were going to give guys a day off, said Nowak. We try to play our first team and give some of our guys and the youngsters a chance to player a successful team in the Bundesliga.
Weve never been shy to give our younger guys a chance. Its good to gain that experience and to see first-hand what these teams are all about.
Despite the younger roster, Schalke is expected to play former Real Madrid great and prolific scorer, Raul, who ended his career with Schalke on the final day of their season but will make the trip. Schalke also possesses US Mens National Team midfielder Jermaine Jones, who could see time.
Schalke is a team that will play in the Champions League next year and were close to the top spot in the Bundesliga, said Nowak. They have great players and are a team that has 10-15,000 fans come to watch them practice every single day. They are followed from generation to generation, even my father followed them. Its a very traditional and successful franchise.
With a track record like that, facing Schalke is more than just a treat for fans and an opportunity to gain on-field experience for the younger players. The Union considers it a meeting of the minds, as they pick the brains of their opposition and try to learn how to build a franchise.
Its great to play against a team like Schalke, to see where we are and what we need, said Nowak, whose team is 3-0 in friendlies at PPL Park against international competition. Discussions about structure, youth development and getting the experience needed to move soccer in the United States and find what we need for the future. Its good to chat with them and well have more of that.
Understanding the immense respect that Schalke brings to PPL Park is new Union midfielder Kai Herdling, a German-born player who spent almost his entire career playing within the Bundesliga.
Schalke is one of Germanys top teams with top players, said Herdling through a German translator. They are very well-known and popular in Germany. They have good fans, so growing up in Germany, you always kind of root for them to succeed.
Yet, while the Union hopes to learn from one of Germanys most successful franchises, the real story is what the players will take away from it. Dropping their last two MLS games, the Union can use all the momentum they can get.
E-mail Ryan Bright at firstname.lastname@example.org