Twenty one days, two hours, and thirty minutes.
That’s how much time will have passed between the Union’s last MLS game at Toronto and their next league contest against D.C. United. It’s Philadelphia’s longest league layover by far this season, but it doesn't mean the club has been stagnant.
On Saturday, the Union continue non-league play at Shirk Stadium against affiliate Reading United A.C. Reading, a USL Premier Development League team, notched a first-round win in the U.S. Open Cup before falling 2-1 in second-round play.
This will be Philadelphia’s third straight year playing a friendly against Reading, who are led by Union Reserve League head coach Brendan Burke, and it will mark the first time Union rookie defender Ray Gaddis faces his former club.
The Union hope to continue building on momentum from their two recent U.S. Open Cup victories -- a 3-0 win against the Rochester Rhinos followed by a 2-1 victory against D.C. United that yielded a berth in the quarterfinals. While the scoreline against Reading will ultimately mean little, the players on the field will not be taking the game lightly.
“We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing in these Open Cup matches and take it into the friendlies,” said forward Antoine Hoppenot. “We just have to keep playing the same way, to keep fighting for every ball and doing everything we can to win … every match you play, of course you want to win.”
Returning to the squad for the Reading match will be midfielder Roger Torres. The 20-year-old needed surgery after sustaining an MCL sprain during an April 9 reserve match against New England, but the midfielder “will play” according to manager Peter Nowak.
Three days after the Reading contest, the Union will be in Hershey, Pa. for another friendly, this time against the Harrisburg City Islanders, another club affiliate and Philadelphia's upcoming U.S. Open Cup opponent.
As the next MLS match approaches, however, Philadelphia have not lost sight of their most important goal: beginning an ascent up the Eastern Conference standings. Some first teamers are expected to rest during the two exhibition matches as the squad gears up for a crucial stretch of league play.
“The most important game will be over the weekend against D.C. again,” said manager Peter Nowak. "We have to make sure the guys are still going to do the job over the weekend, but some of these guys need some breaks.”
“We need to stay sharp,” added Hoppenot, “because we have some tough league matches coming up followed by the Open Cup.”
The Union return to MLS action on June 16 at PPL Park against first-place D.C. United, kicking off a stretch of 14 league games in 11 weeks.