In a season that once looked and felt like a lost cause, the Union are on a roll. Including U.S. Open Cup matches, they have lost just once in their last 11 games. Taking advantage of a weak Eastern Conference, the Union have put themselves within one point of a playoff spot.
But now comes an interruption, a friendly in which the result means little. The Union will host Crystal Palace FC of the Premier League at PPL Park on Friday. Interim manager Jim Curtin is ambivalent about the match.
On one hand, it gives his team an opportunity to represent MLS, a notion he strongly supports. On the other, there's little for the Union to gain. Crystal Palace is preparing for its season, so detractors will say a Union win means little but will criticize MLS if the Union lose.
"I always think any time you're representing your league, you should put your best effort out there," Curtin said. "Too many times you see in these games, whether it's against a club from Mexico, a club from England, they don't get our best punch, so to speak, because we're in the heat of the season."
Curtin said he will take that approach, although he expects many of his players to play 45 minutes instead of the full 90, giving him the chance to see some players who haven't had much of an opportunity.
Defender Austin Berry stands to see playing time now that he is healthy, as does Jamaican forward Brian Brown, recently acquired on loan. Brown saw nine minutes of action in the team's draw against the Chicago Fire on Saturday, and Curtin wants to see more of what he can do. But he still wants to give a team from the Premier League a run for its money.
"The bottom line is our league's getting better," Curtin said. "Players from these teams now want to come play in our league."
Sometimes, the gulf between the leagues is still evident. The Los Angeles Galaxy lost, 7-0, to Manchester United on Wednesday night. In the midst of the Union's hot streak, a similar result could become a momentum killer.