As the Seattle Sounders proved last year, expansion teams can be successful in their first season. They can make the playoffs. They can win trophies.
Winning MLS Cup may prove a bit unlikely for this year’s expansion team, the Philadelphia Union. But an extended run in the U.S. Open Cup is certainly not out of the question.
The long road starts Tuesday night as Philadelphia returns to Red Bull Arena to take on the New York Red Bulls for the second time in less than a week. The teams will take part in a qualification play-in game, which means the Union have to win this match to continue with a chance of even qualifying to participate in the tournament.
With a squad full of young players, raring to get on the pitch and contribute, one may suspect that the team will field a weakened squad in a match that may not take precedence over their league priorities.
Union manager Peter Nowak disagrees.
"Is there a trophy?” he asked after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to New York. “Then we’ll play the best players.”
If Nowak is to be believed, the Union will play some of their more experienced players in the match ahead of a very tricky trip to Los Angeles at the end of the week against the undefeated, league-leading Galaxy.
Contrary to his opposition, Red Bulls boss Hans Backe suggested that he may play a weaker side in the Tuesday night rematch, with second overall draft pick Tony Tchani getting the start.
“With this schedule now, with the Juventus game coming in ... you would probably play nine games from today until June 5,” said Backe after Saturday’s match. “I don’t think this squad is available to cope with that, so we will play mostly the players that haven’t been involved in the first five games.”
Currently, there are only three players on the Union’s official roster who haven’t seen game action in the four matches so far this season: goalies Brad Knighton and Brian Perk and midfielder Kyle Nakazawa.
The bench time could continue for the trio as the Union can be expected to field a strong side with Nowak seeking a deep run through the tournament. English Premier League club Portsmouth proved league form is not necessarily indicative of a team's ability to win a cup tournament. Portsmouth have already been relegated as the last-place team in the EPL while they prepare to face Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.
For Union 'keeper and likely starter Chris Seitz, it’s eyes on the prize going into tonight’s match.
“We’re obviously coming back to win,” said Seitz on Saturday. “That’s first and foremost for us and that’s in our heads. It’s a quick turnaround obviously, so we got to take care of our bodies and get back and be here on Tuesday and go at it again.”