Scouting Report: Union to host Raúl's Schalke finale
The Philadelphia Union are set for a mid-week matchup against FC Schalke 04, who will be playing Champions League football next season. The international showdown marks the last time Spanish legend Raúl will feature for Schalke.
Schalke 04 wrapped up third place in the German Bundesliga just two weeks ago, earning an automatic spot in next year’s UCL group phase.
One of the largest and most popular clubs in Germany, Schalke finished their domestic season with a record of 20 wins, 4 draws, and 10 losses. They won group J in the Europa League before quarterfinal elimination at the hands of Spanish side Athletic Bilbao.
The Gelsenkirchen-based club has seven league titles in a history dating back to 1904. The last of those titles came in 1958, but Schalke have found recent success. Last year, the club won both the German League Cup and German Super Cup to complement a trip to the Champions League semifinals.
Dutch Manager Huub Stevens is in his second spell with Schalke. He took over last September after former coach Ralf Rangnick stepped down for health reasons.
Schalke’s sporting director Horst Heldt played professionally with Union manager Peter Nowak. The pair were midfield partners for 1860 Munich from 1995 to 1998.
Schalke’s Philadelphia visit comes just five days after the team’s season-ending 3-2 road win over Werder Bremen. It will be their third trip to the United States and first exhibition against an MLS side.
Raúl officially wrapped up his Schalke career on Saturday, but will make a final appearance with the team at PPL Park. The former Real Madrid striker spent two years in Gelsenkirchen after 18 La Liga seasons. The departure was mutual and Raúl says he’ll continue playing next year in a league outside of Europe.
Strike partner Klaas-Jan Huntelaar led the Bundesliga with 29 goals this season and isn’t going anywhere. The Dutch international scored braces in his final two league games and now has 37 goals for Schalke since joining two years ago. Huntelaar was highly rated and highly sought during a three year spell with Ajax Amsterdam. He made his successful move to Germany after failing to settle with Real Madrid and AC Milan.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones is the lone American on Schalke’s roster. The U.S. international has been with the club since 2007 and spent half a season on loan to Blackburn in the English Premier League. American fans are familiar with his physical and gritty play in the middle of the park.
The rest of the Schalke squad is a diverse blend of skilled and hard-working players. It’s not the fanciest or flashiest roster but there is plenty of depth and flexibility in the ranks. More than a dozen nationalities are represented in Schalke’s first team squad.
Captain Benedict Howedes anchors Schalke in defense. The 24-year-old fought through injury late in the season alongside fellow center half Christoph Metzelder. Joel Matip and Kyriakos Papadopoulous performed well in their place. Fullbacks Atsuto Uchida and Christian Fuchs played well in defense all year long.
Peruvian forward/winger Jefferson Farfan (not related to Michael or Gabriel) is a handful in attack and just signed a new four-year contract. Spanish playmaker Jose Jurado pulls the strings in an attacking midfield role.
There’s a solid young core with players like 18-year-old Julian Draxler, 21-year-old Lewis Holtby, and the aforementioned Matip, who stands 6-4 at age 20. And there’s no lack of options up top with Chinedu Obasi, Teemu Pukki and Ciprian Marica each playing a role this year.
Union vs. International Opponents
The Union have traditionally played extremely well against favored international opponents, beating the likes of Everton, Chivas de Guadalajara and Celtic by identical 1-0 scorelines. Philadelphia were edged by Manchester United and Real Madrid, 1-0 and 2-1 respectively, but impressed in both contests against two of the world's elite sides.
Schalke will present another formidable test for the third-year MLS club, as the Union look to jumpstart their offense ahead of a Sunday showdown with the New York Red Bulls. Based on past history, look for Philadelphia to roll out a starting XI that resembles league matches, before giving way to the other half of the roster in the second half. It should be a fun one at PPL Park.
Schalke Fast Facts
Stadium: Veltins-Arena (Capacity 61,500)
Nicknames: Die Königsblauen (the Royal Blues), Die Knappen (The Knaves)
Manager: Huub Stevens
Main rival: Borussia Dortmund
Bundesliga titles: 7
DFB Pokal wins (German Cup): 5
2011-2012 league record: 20 wins, 10 losses, 4 draws (third place, 64 points)
2011-2012 In Europe: Europa League - eliminated in quarterfinals by Athletic Bilbao