CHESTER, Pa. – It might seem too daunting of a task for teenagers to take the field opposite some of the world’s most famous soccer players.
But that’s exactly the position Philadelphia Union manager has put his youngsters in for international friendlies over the past two seasons. And that’s exactly what he’ll do again for Wednesday’s exhibition matchup against Bundesliga foe FC Schalke 04 at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET).
“We’ve never been shy over the past two-and-a-half years to give them a chance,” Nowak said. “I think this is a good chance for them to gain experience and a good chance to see firsthand what those teams are all about.”
In Schalke, the Union players will see a team that recently finished in third place in the Bundesliga to secure automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League. The German club is expected to play Spanish legend Raúl – in what will be his farewell game at Schalke – and US national team member Jermaine Jones, among other standouts, during Wednesday’s contest.
“This is a team that’s followed generation to generation,” said Nowak, whose own farther was a Schalke fan. “They have a very good tradition and are a very successful franchise. … It’s great to play against them. It’s a chance for all of us to see where we are and what we need.”
One of the things the Union need most, however, is rest for some starters, especially with an Eastern Conference battle against the rival Red Bulls looming on Sunday.
Nowak said that it’s “no secret” that they’ll give a few players off, specifically mentioning captain Danny Califf, defender Chris Albright, midfielders Freddy Adu and Gabriel Gómez and starting goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
Backup ’keeper Chase Harrison, who has yet to make an MLS appearance in his career, will man the net in MacMath’s place.
The Union will also likely give significant of playing time to Homegrown signings Zach Pfeffer (above, right), Jimmy McLaughin (above, left) and Cristhian Hernandez – which could very well help them win their fourth straight international friendly at PPL Park. In last year’s exhibition against Everton FC, the three teenagers led the attack in the second half with Hernandez – then an academy player – scoring the game’s only goal in a 1-0 Union victory.
“It’s a great time to give most of the first team and some youngsters a good run against a team that is very successful in the Bundesliga,” Nowak said. “It’s good for these guys to be in the starting lineup.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.