17 June 2014

It's no World Cup, but plenty of reasons to watch Philadelphia Union vs. Harrisburg City Islanders tonight

Philadelphia reached the Open Cup semifinals at PPL Park
back in 2012, beating Harrisburg 5-2 along the way.
Calling an American soccer game the day after the US national team’s dramatic 2-1 win over Ghana is intimidating. It’s not like any mid-season club game can top that type of drama, emotion, or significance.

Nevertheless, I’m really looking forward to calling the Philadelphia Union game against the Harrisburg City Islanders tonight in U.S. Open Cup play (7:00 pm ET, Philadelphia Union YouTube channel). Here are a few of the storylines that make this one worth watching:
  1. Motivation: The Open Cup often pits amped-up lower-division teams whose players have a point to prove against MLS teams for whom the game is more of a scheduling nuisance than a date to be circled. (Case in point: the New York Cosmos crushing the New York Red Bulls 3-0 on Saturday). But in this case, both teams will be highly motivated. It will be the first game for Philadelphia under interim manager Jim Curtin, which means players will be trying to prove that they deserve to either stay in the lineup or get a chance to break into it. Curtin has also stated that the Union will prioritize the Open Cup more than some other MLS teams. On the Harrisburg side, this is the biggest game on the schedule so far, and their players will bring maximum effort from the opening whistle. 
  2. Connections: With an affiliation agreement in place, these teams work together 364 days per year, but on Tuesday, they will be looking for any advantage they can get. Philadelphia will not allow four players currently on loan to Harrisburg to play against the Union, depriving Harrisburg of three starters (target forward Pedro Ribeiro, wing Jimmy McLaughlin, and center back Richie Marquez). Harrisburg will rely on its knowledge of the Union, thanks in part to wing Morgan Langley and center midfielder Yann Ekra, who have both had brief stints with Philadelphia. Union defender Sheanon Williams began his pro career with Harrisburg in 2010 
  3. Up against it: Harrisburg is seriously depleted. This is the City Islanders’ sixth of seven games in 21 days from May 31-June 20, and after seeing both Neil Shaffer and Clesio Bauque subbed out due to injury on Saturday against Pittsburgh, they have only 13 field players available for the 10 starting spots. Nevertheless, Harrisburg is 5-4 all-time in Open Cup games against MLS teams, so head coach Bill Becher and captain Jason Pelletier will be able to instill some belief in the players who are available. 
  4. A new era: Curtin is a 34-year-old Villanova alumnus who highlighted his local roots when he was introduced as Philadelphia's interim manager last week. The passionate Union fans want to see a team that reflects their own intensity, and I have a feeling Curtin will be a good motivator. That still leaves questions such as, what formation will Curtin choose, which young players will get looks, and where will some of the more established players line up? The Jim Curtin Era begins tonight, and I’ll be there to get a first glimpse.
Philadelphia Harrisburg
Record 3-7-6 3-6-3
Place 8th/10 MLS East 11th/14 USL PRO
Scoring 22-27 = -5
14-20 = -6
Leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux 4
Conor Casey 4
Morgan Langley 4
Clesio Bauque 3
Open Cup history 4-2, 3-1 home 14-7, 5-4 vs. MLS
Head-to-head Open Cup: PHI leads 1-0 (2012)
Friendly: PHI leads 2-1 (2011, 12, 13)

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