Celtic FC interrupts the Union's regularly scheduled program to bring them some time away from Major League Soccer. It couldn't have come any sooner.
Days removed from a gut-wrenching loss to San Jose, the Union will host Celtic FC in an international friendly Wednesday night as part of the Scottish club's four-city North American tour. The Union will resume league play Saturday against Toronto, then break again from MLS play host to Manchester United next Wednesday.
As is usually the case with exhibitions, both clubs will use Wednesday's match for something more purposeful down the road. For Celtic FC, that means preparing and improving its conditioning for stiffer competition ahead. The Union will look to retool after a relatively discouraging loss over the weekend.
"I think it's definitely good," Union defender Jordan Harvey said on the team's website. "We can come back right away with a clean slate against Celtic FC. We're not thinking about Toronto yet. We need to go back and look at the film and keep getting better. Some mental mistakes hurt us [on Saturday]. Having this game to play before Toronto, I think, is very good for us."
The Union (3-8) can tinker with their strategy without sinking themselves further in the standings. As it is, they're in the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference with 11 points, just one shy of a tie for sixth place.
But also, having played the fewest matches of any MLS club, the Union have more opportunities to make a run. Before Saturday's loss, the Union were one of four unbeaten clubs at home. And with five of their next seven matches at PPL Park, the Union are in a favorable position.
"We're learning every game," Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz said after the loss. "We had so many chances to win [Saturday], and we all know that. . . . I'm excited about Wednesday's match. It's another chance to see where we stand and how we can evolve from here."
In meeting with reporters Tuesday, Celtic FC members appeared more concerned about conditioning than devising a plan to defeat the Union. Aside from watching highlights of a Union match, the Scottish club is mostly unfamiliar with the Union. And it doesn't appear to make a difference to them.
"It's a good test for us to play good teams," Celtic FC defender Glen Loovens said.
"This is going to be the first game for us in preseason, so it's just good to see where we are as a team. Just to get the game in your legs is important, as well. It doesn't matter who you play or where you play. It's all about the performance as a team that we're looking to do."
On this trip, Celtic FC also will play Manchester United.
Celtic FC team manager Neil Lennon complimented the MLS and the U.S. national team for their "good standards" and improving play, especially during the World Cup. He also conceded that the Union likely will be ahead of Celtic FC because his team hasn't played yet this season.
Still, the Union hope to use this as a building block more than bragging rights.
"We know what's in front of us in terms of how important these home matches are in MLS," Harvey said. "The Celtic match and the Man. U. match are just as important to us. We want to win.
"Even more important than that, we want to keep improving. I feel very, very lucky and fortunate to be able to play in these types of games during our expansion season. It's only going to help us."