The Philadelphia Union head to Harrisburg on Thursday the 28th to face their USL PRO affiliate City Islanders in a friendly, Harrisburg announced Tuesday. While the Union are obligated to play HCI once a year, the sudden announcement left a lot of people wondering "Why now?" , especially when this is one of the few remaining breaks the Union have left going into a meat grinder of a stretch that sees them play five games in 17 days - including the US Open Cup Final against the Seattle Sounders.
The last time the clubs met was June 17th in the US Open Cup. It was Jim Curtin's first game as a manager, which saw the Union gut out a 3-1 win in overtime after being down most of the match on a Jason Pelletier goal in the 39th minute. Maurice Edu knotted the game in the 89th, and Andrew Wenger's brace in overtime allowed the Union to continue on their quest for their first-ever trophy in club history.
While the Union aren't necessarily obligated to play their best eleven, HCI's press release stated "The Union do not return to MLS play until Wednesday, September 3rd, meaning fans can expect to see a near full strength Philadelphia team." Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but it will be worth keeping an eye on which regular starters play and for how long. Personally I would expect most minutes to go to guys like Zach Pfeffer, Brian Carroll, Aaron Wheeler, Fabinho, and Pedro Ribiero - guys who aren't first team regulars but need not only some match fitness but evaluation for next season's squad. This will also allow Jim Curtin and staff to evaluate players like Jimmy McLaughlin, Cristhian Hernandez, and Antoine Hoppenot who were all loaned out to HCI to get them first team minutes as well as guys like Yann Ekra, Morgan Langley and Clesio Bauque, who have some history with the Union (Ekra was a squad member last season before being cut, Langley was a squad member in 2011 before being cut, and Bauque trialed with the Union this preseason before being cut and signed by HCI on loan from Portuguese club Benfica).
This has the same feel going into it as the friendly with Crystal Palace did - let's look at the reserves and fringe players, see what they offer, and just hope no one on either side gets Kassel'd.