Just because the Union host a Mother's Day showdown against Major League Soccer rival New York Red Bulls on Sunday doesn't mean they are overlooking Wednesday's friendly against Schalke 04.
They can't afford to.
This isn't a preseason match for the German visitors, but rather a U.S. visit three days removed from a successful campaign in the top-flight Bundesliga. Schalke's third-place finish secured a Champions League spot next season as one of the best in Europe.
Although not a household name in the States, Schalke is no joke, and the Union know it.
The club features some of the world's premier talent, including Dutch midfielder Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and veteran Spanish forward Raúl Gonzalez Blanco (known worldwide by just his first name). Additionally, U.S. national team forward Jermaine Jones rounds out a formidable side that isn't just looking to collect a payday.
"Some of their bigger players will be out there, and I'm sure they're not going to want to lose, just like we won't want to lose," Union defender Sheanon Williams said on the club's website. "So it will definitely be competitive, and both teams will be wanting to work on some stuff and get a good result."
In fact, rumor has it that Raúl, who will turn 35 in June, could be auditioning for his next role. He is set to retire from European soccer after this match and has listened to overtures from MLS, along with leagues in Asia and the Middle East. The biggest offer is for a reported $12 million to play in Qatar and serve as an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup there.
But the focus for Wednesday night is exactly who Union manager Peter Nowak will put on the pitch against Raúl and company. With a crucial league match Sunday, Nowak's crop of young talent likely will take the field, many of them earning their first big in-game experience under the lights.
"This is why you have an entire team - to take advantage of [playing Wednesday] against great competition," midfielder Brian Carroll was quoted as saying on the Union website.
Carroll, who missed a pair of matches with a hamstring injury, was not listed on the latest injury report and could appear in Wednesday night's match.
"Full well knowing we have a good league opponent coming up on the weekend, I'm sure lots of guys will see minutes, and they'll use that to prepare for New York," Carroll said.
"This match tomorrow also allows us to work on things for New York," he said. "It allows us to get game minutes, to get sharper, to get fitter in a game environment, provide competition against the best possible opponent before New York."
Schalke 04 at Union
What: International club friendly
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: PPL Park, Chester
Tickets: Available at www.philadelphiaunion.com or by calling 877-218-6466. Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer members are eligible for a special discount. Log on to the website at www.philadelphiaunion.com/promo and enter the promo code EPYS12.
About the game: This match kicks off a slate of friendlies this summer in the United States between international powers and Major League Soccer clubs. . . . Germany's Schalke 04 finished third in the Bundesliga this season (64 points) behind Bayern Munich (73) and champion Borussia Dortmund (81). . . . Schalke 04 last played in the United States in 1963, when it played four exhibition matches in New York.
Injuries: Union: Roger Torres, midfielder (left knee surgery recovery); Krystian Witkowski, forward (concussion); Zac MacMath, goalie (concussion symptoms) are out. Chris Albright, defender (sprained left big toe) is doubtful. Danny Califf, defender (strained left hamstring) is questionable. Gabriel Farfan, D (strained left hamstring) is probable. - Kerith GabrielEndText