The Union’s current two-week MLS break could be viewed negatively.
With five wins in their last eight games and unbeaten in their last four, the Union risk falling out of the groove that has them scratching at a playoff position despite a disastrous start to their season.
But according to interim manager Jim Curtin, forget the illusion of momentum. This vacation is a gift.
“We saw it as a break,” he said. “Once we got past Chicago, we saw that week as a time to catch our breath a little bit. We were going Wednesday, Saturday. [US] Open Cup games going 120 minutes, it was adding up a little bit.”
But the break isn’t all about rest. The Union face the English Premier League’s Crystal Palace on Friday at PPL Park in a mid-season friendly. It’s another in a long line of international exhibitions the Union have put on since the club’s inception in 2010.
And though the Union have more taxing issues ahead -- specifically, a semifinal Open Cup match against FC Dallas and MLS road game against Sporting Kansas City -- they find value in facing the international competition.
The Union are 5-1-2 in their last eight games between the Open Cup and MLS.
“We’re going to treat the Crystal Palace game as a real game,” Curtin said. “We’re going to put two good groups on the field, so it will probably be 45 minutes for most guys and a couple guys may go 90. We get to see some guys that will answer some questions we might have, so it’s a good opportunity for them.”
Two players that have the most to show Curtin will be striker Brian Brown and center back Austin Berry.
Berry, who is coming off an illness and myriad of injuries, will see his first action since May 17. The young defender has played in just six games this season, losing his starting spot to Ethan White and Maurice Edu in the process.
“Austin is fully healthy and he’ll be ready to go,” Curtin said. “He’ll be a guy you will see out there.”
Brown, on loan from Harbour View in Jamaica, has only a short time to prove he belongs in the Union’s crowded forward shuffle.
“He’ll play Friday night, for sure,” said Curtin, who also mentioned that Antoine Hoppenot and Pedro Riberio will also get time. “He’ll see a lot of minutes. We’ll see what he has. He’s on loan so there’s no time to sit and wait and bring him along nice and slowly. We’ll throw him out there and see how he does.”
Crystal Palace, finishing 11th last season in the Premier League last season, is coming off a 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew on Wednesday. The quick turnaround for Crystal Palace will make it tough for the Union to game plan toward a specific roster. What they do know, however, is that it will be an incredibly tough test for their back line.
“They’re an exciting, dynamic team and they attack like crazy,” Curtin said. “It will be a real test for our defenders. They will be a handful going forward.”
Because of this challenge, the Union view Crystal Palace's visit as a gift, not a distraction. Just like their two-week break.
“Any time you can test yourself against a top club from a top league in the world,” Curtin said, “it’s a good test.”