JUST BECAUSE the Union hosts a Mother's Day showdown against rival Red Bull New York on Sunday doesn't mean it is overlooking Wednesday's friendly against Schalke 04.
It can't afford to.
The German visitors are 3 days removed from a successful campaign in the German Bundesliga. Schalke's third-place finish secured a Champions League spot among the best in Europe next season.
Although not a household name in the States, Schalke is no joke, and the Union knows it. The club features some of the world's premier talent, including midfielder Klaas Jan Huntelaar and veteran forward Raúl Gonzalez Blanco. Additionally, U.S. national team forward Jermaine Jones rounds out a formidable side that isn't just looking to collect a payday.
"Schalke is a really good team, and they did really well in Germany," Union defender Sheanon Williams said on the club's website. "Some of their bigger players will be out there, and I'm sure they're not gong to want to lose, just like we won't want to lose. So it'll 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 Blanco - known worldwide by his first name - could be auditioning for his next role. Raúl is set to retire from European soccer after this match and has listened to interest 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 a job as a ambassador in advance of the 2022 World Cup in that country.
The focus for Wednesday night is whom Union manager Peter Nowak will put in the lineup. With a crucial MLS 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, against the German giants.
"This is why you have an entire team - to take advantage of [playing Wednesday] against great competition," midfielder Brian Carroll told the team's 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."