Match preview: A Capital City showdown awaits under the lights between Union and Harrisburg

Little brother looks for a little Open Cup redemption Thursday

Cruz vs. Harrisburg

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

Philadelphia Union at Harrisburg City Islanders

What: Exhibition match against developmental affiliate; Ticketspurchase tickets

When: Thursday, 7 p.m. Where: Skyline Sports Complex, Harrisburg, Pa

TV: None; Radio: None; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday

_________________________________

It’s going to be a wild ride down the stretch.

Not only are the Philadelphia Union (7-9-9, 30 points) fighting for a spot in the MLS Cup playoff race – they’re tied with the New England Revolution and just one point behind the New York Red Bulls for the fifth and final spot in the Eastern Conference – there’s also a huge U.S. Open Cup final looming Sept. 16 at PPL Park.

On that night, the Union will host Seattle Sounders FC looking to win and hoist the first trophy in the five-year history of the franchise.

In between, there are so many important matches, including a friendly against the Harrisburg City Islanders Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Skyline Sports Complex.

It will be a rematch of the classic U.S. Open Cup battle on June 17.

Andrew Wenger scored two clutch goals in overtime to help push the Union past the City Islanders, 3-1. It marked the second year in a row that the Union had ousted their developmental affiliate.

Harrisburg proved to be a worthy opponent, even playing short-handed. Goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre had 10 saves in that match and nearly willed the City Islanders to victory.

The City Islanders (9-9-7) have played extremely well over their last six matches, going 4-1-1 record, including a win over USL PRO leaders and future MLS club Orlando City SC.  Harrisburg’s latest match was a tough 2-2 draw against the Rochester Rhinos. Goalkeeper Nick Noble drew a red card just 33 minutes into that match while Clesio Bauque scored both goals for the visiting City Islanders.

Thursday’s match will be the seventh meeting between the clubs, including four friendlies and two U.S. Open Cup matches.

Philadelphia will return to league action on Sept. 3 against Toronto FC at PPL Park.

It’s hard to predict what type of lineup interim manager Jim Curtin will roll out against the City Islanders.

Wenger was terrific against Harrisburg in the U.S. Open Cup and he also scored two goals in last Sunday’s 4-2 league victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

“It wasn’t on TV, but the Dallas Open Cup, we saw a lot of those things,” Curtin said of Wenger’s ability. “When he gets a head of steam going at a defender, he’s that combination of speed and power that you don’t see often. When he bangs it with an outside back, he doesn’t lose any speed. He’s strong as can be. He’s a special player who just needs confidence. And I think a night like tonight gives a guy confidence. He’s really learned how to play the position. It’s been a little unique out wide for him. But he’s starting to grasp his abilities and it’s leading to his goals. Like I said, he was excellent (Sunday) running at guys. He checks every box. He’s big, he’s strong. He’s fast. He can smack the ball with his right and left foot as you saw tonight. He’s a guy with an incredibly high ceiling. I think you’re seeing the start of something. He’s a guy that needs to be challenged like the rest of the guys.  I keep talking about this next level that we need to go to. Like Seattle as you saw today. That’s the benchmark for us right now.

Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at andy.jasner@yahoo.com