Union look to stay sharp in friendly against City Islanders

As the Harrisburg City Islanders prepare for a key playoff game later this week, the Philadelphia Union are trying to gain traction in their own playoff quest.

When the Union and City Islanders meet for a friendly Wednesday evening at Harrisburg's Skyline Sports Complex (7 pm ET), staying sharp and staying healthy are, naturally, the main concerns for both clubs.

“Any time you can get a local match against a good opponent, that definitely helps us,” Union defender Sheanon Williams said. “We can work on the things we work on at practice and see how it comes up in games. It’s a good tune-up for Sunday.”

On Sunday, the Union host the New England Revolution at PPL Park (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online), looking to snap a five-game winless skid and move back up in the Eastern Conference standings after falling from second to fourth over the weekend.

Meanwhile, in the USL Professional Division, the City Islanders — a minor league affiliate of the Union — play the Rochester Rhinos on Friday in the National Division finals, a win away from a spot in the USL Pro title game on Sept. 3.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to play the Union and we look forward to this game,” said City Islanders head coach Bill Becher, who coached Harrisburg to a 1-1 tie against the Union in last year’s matchup. “But the timing is a little difficult for us with a playoff game Friday night. It changes things a little bit on how we approach it. A couple of guys we’re not going to be able to use.”

The Union will likely rest many of their starters for the exhibition, as well. But as with their earlier friendly with affiliate Reading United AC, the most important things for Philly are giving young players time, scouting the talent on the City Islanders, and extending their fan base outside of Philly.

And for Harrisburg, showcasing their abilities in front of Union coaches trumps anything else.

Becher believes his squad is loaded with young players that have MLS potential, including Colombian José Angulo, Gambian Sainey Touray and local product Andrew Welker. All three are among the league’s top 10 scorers this season, and all three will look to follow in the footsteps of Williams, who was signed by the Union last August after playing a full season for the Islanders.

Williams has since become one of the league’s premier right backs — though, ironically, he was used as a forward at Harrisburg.

“That’s something we’re really proud of and we’re really happy for him,” Becher said. “It goes back to one of the reasons we play this game, so guys can get the same chance Sheanon got.”

Williams, who bounced around from trial to trial before making his professional debut at Harrisburg, is certainly grateful for the opportunity the City Islanders provided for him and is eager to play in Wednesday’s friendly, this time on the MLS team’s side.

And the Philly fullback believes current Harrisburg players can certainly carve out the same path he made for himself.

“I’m glad I can be an example of someone that started out not being drafted in MLS but eventually made it here,” Williams said. “I know a lot of guys before me did and guys will do it after me. It’s not set in stone down there. You can definitely move up. It’s just the matter of getting the right opportunity.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.