CHESTER, Pa. — It hardly mattered that the game didn’t count toward the MLS standings, or that it was mostly being used as a training session.
For Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak, trailing 2-0 at the half of Wednesday’s friendly against the Harrisburg City Islanders was unacceptable, especially considering he has most of his starters on the pitch.
“We had a sense of urgency that this is not us, this not how we play, this is not how we compete,” Nowak said during his weekly press conference from PPL Park on Thursday. “After the first half, our guys knew, without me interfering or yelling and screaming, that they were better than this.”
The Union indeed showed they were better, scoring five unanswered goals in the second half to beat their USL Pro affiliate 5-3 at Harrisburg’s Skyline Sports Complex.
Aside from the rare five-goal scoring barrage, the most interesting part of Wednesday’s comeback was that it was executed by mostly reserves. Rookies Zach Pfeffer and Ryan Richter, neither of whom have made their MLS debut, both scored for the Union, as did trialist Joe Tait, a 21-year-old defender who Nowak said would stick around with the club for a couple of days before they “make a decision on what to do with him.”
“The first half we were all over the place, but the second half we were very organized,” Nowak said. “We were moving the ball well, with one, two touches forward and finding good spots, good openings. It was a positive sign for us.”
As with all friendlies, Nowak noted it was good to see his younger guys like Richter and Pfeffer handle game situations, while also taking a look at some of the Harrisburg players who have MLS potential.
But if the Union do pluck someone from their USL Pro affiliate for the stretch run — like they did last year with fullback Sheanon Williams — they won’t do it until after Harrisburg’s season ends. Head coach Bill Becher’s City Islanders play in the National Division finals on Friday, and with a win would advance to the USL Pro Championship on Sept. 3.
“It would be very unprofessional to talk to Bill about who will join us right now,” Nowak said. “He has his preparations for a playoff game and doesn’t need to be bothered with what Nowak needs or wants. When the time is right, we will sit down and connect with Bill again and see what is possible.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.