UPDATE: Friday night's game has been postponed to 4 p.m. Saturday due to the snowstorm hitting the Philadelphia region. Get more details here.
If you're on your couch Saturday and you're trying to find the Union's game against FC Dallas on TV, you're going to have to look in a place you might not expect.
The matchup will be broadcast exclusively on Univision Deportes, a Spanish-language cable sports channel owned by Univision. Although Univision has had a long relationship with Major League Soccer, this year - for the first time in league history - the Spanish-language national broadcasts won't be accompanied by English-language broadcasts on local channels for the teams involved.
You will be able to watch the game in English, though, by using the SAP button on your remote control
As part of a new 8-year, $720 million rights deal that Univision, ESPN and Fox signed with MLS, Univision hired English-language announcers to provide a secondary audio feed for all of its MLS broadcasts.
It was a huge step for a league that aspires to have as many fútbol fans as it does soccer fans.
As a player in Chicago and Los Angeles, Union manager Jim Curtin witnessed firsthand the evolution of MLS' relationship with Hispanic fans. Now he has a close-up view o fthe game's growth in the Philadelphia region. The Oreland native lives near the Italian Market, where a growing Mexican immigrant community has blossomed in recent years.
"There's certainly a lot of Mexican fans there who are dialed into our team - probably more than some people would believe," Curtin said.
Another key component of Univision's MLS broadcast schedule is the network's exclusivity on Friday nights. The only Friday games all year are contests shown on Univision networks.
Combine that with the Sunday games on ESPN2 and Fox Sports 1, and there's a recipe for MLS to finally solve one of its biggest problems: chronically low television ratings.
It may sound simple, but this season is the first in MLS' 20-year history when every nationally televised game hasn't had to battle for viewers with other games at the same hour. The league has already seen dividends, with big increases in viewership so far this year relative to past seasons.
"The first weekend, that's all my meathead football friends talked about - how much MLS was on TV," Curtin said.
Tonight, Curtin's team will be in the national spotlight as it hosts a team with plenty of Latin flair. Dallas midfielders Mauro Díaz and Fabián Castillo are dynamic creators, and big striker Blas Pérez is a perennial pest.
"Blas Pérez is kind of in the Carlos Ruiz mode," Curtin said, referring to the former Union striker and not the Phillies catcher. "He's difficult to play against, he's physical, but you'd love him on your team because he scores big goals."
He certainly does. Pérez had led Dallas in scoring each of the last two seasons, with 11 in both campaigns. Three of his goals last year were game-winners.
As the Union look to counter with some attacking threats of their own, they'll have to prepare without two of their most important players. One is playmaking midfielder Cristian Maidana, who injured a leg in practice Tuesday and is out for 2 to 4 weeks. The other is striker C.J. Sapong, who suffered a concussion and a broken cheekbone in the Union's season opener. He's out for longer, and doesn't have a certain return date yet.
Along with the two injuries, the Union have sent winger Danny Cruz on a loan to Norwegian club FK Bodø/Glimt for the rest of 2015. It's bad timing because of the injury list, but the deal has been in the works for a while.
"As I embark on this new journey I want you to know that I have genuinely enjoyed playing at PPL Park in front of all of you," Cruz wrote in a message to fans posted on Twitter. "There will always be a special place in my heart for you all and this club."
It'll help Cruz's acclimation that he won't be the only American at Bodø/Glimt. The club happens to be the home of Lancaster native Zarek Valentin, who used to play for the Montréal Impact.
"Hopefully when he comes back, he'll be better than ever," Curtin said. "It was a hard decision for sure because he is a spark off the bench, but we have some young players that are coming up now, too, and I think it was the best move for him and the Union."
One of those young players is midfielder Zach Pfeffer. The Dresher native is the leading candidate to start in Maidana's absence, especially after a solid performance as a substitute last weekend.
"Zach Pfeffer has really risen to the occasion," Curtin said. "He's a guy that I can throw wide right, wide left [or] centrally as the No. 10."