The Philadelphia Union are excited to play the Harrisburg City Islanders on Tuesday night at Hersheypark Stadium (7:30 pm ET) in the clubs’ annual exhibition.
They’re decidedly less excited to see them in two weeks when they clash again in the US Open Cup.
“I think we’re both feeling that it’s unfortunate that we’re meeting in the quarterfinals,” assistant coach John Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “We wish US Soccer would have maybe looked at that affiliation a little more closely and not put us in the bracket where we could have played each other. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to beat everybody to get to the trophy, so it is what it is.”
Naturally, Tuesday’s game will have a decidedly different feel than the USOC matchup at PPL Park on June 26.
As with all friendlies, the Union will look to strengthen their relationship with one of their affiliates, reach out to the City Islanders fan base, give important minutes to some of their own reserves and scout the Harrisburg players.
Defender, Sheanon Williams (above) and goalkeeper Chase Harrison are ex-Harrisburg players currently wearing Union blue.
“We work really closely with Harrisburg to try to make sure we get some guys that we think will have a future eventually here,” Hackworth said. “It’s a great evaluation opportunity for us. … And we want to get through that game with no injuries for both of us.”
Then, of course, the stakes will be raised when the two teams meet again in search of a trophy.
“One’s a friendly and one’s the oldest competition in the United States,” Hackworth said. “I expect both teams to play that game much differently than we do [Tuesday].”
“I think they’re pretty familiar with us and we’re pretty familiar with them,” he said in regards to the team tipping their hand in terms of their lineup, tactics or formation.
Besides, Harrisburg has shown to be quite proficient in scouting MLS teams, having already tripped up the Revolution and the Red Bulls in dramatic fashion en route to the USOC quarterfinals.
“I think it’s great,” Hackworth said. “They’re the MLS killers at this point.”
In any other situation, the Union would be rooting for their USL Pro partner to keep rolling through the tournament. But looking for a championship of their own, Philly will make sure the second time they play Harrisburg will be a lot less friendly than the first.
“They’re our opponent,” Hackworth said, “and we’ll treat them as such.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.