The Philadelphia Union will likely play many of their deep reserves when they hit the road to take on affiliate Reading United A.C. in a friendly Friday night (7 p.m.) at Don Thomas Stadium.
Two of them already got a chance to play this week in a much bigger game.
During the Union’s 3-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Wednesday, fan favorite Roger Torres made his first league appearance since the season opener while rookie Aaron Wheeler made his MLS debut.
“I think they were both good opportunities to get players who have been working and have not seen the field and deserve that opportunity,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “With Roger in particular, we have been talking about what he needed to do to increase his playing time and I think he understands that and knows there are some opportunities in the next couple of weeks for him. With Aaron, it’s the same kind of situation. He has been really good in training.”
Even before Torres entered Wednesday’s match, he heard his name chanted by Union fans, which have loved the Colombian midfielder ever since he started the first game in franchise history three years ago.
Torres has seen his playing time diminish since Hackworth took over as manager but that kind of fan support still means a lot to him.
“This was a great night for me because I got the opportunity to be on the field, to play in front of my fans and to show that I can be here,” Torres said. “The only thing I can say is thanks and that I’ll just keep working hard to get another chance.”
Wheeler, who signed with Philly in the offseason, has less of a reputation among Union fans but still felt the love at PPL Park, saying the atmosphere at the stadium made his debut “everything you hope for.”
And it nearly became even better in the final minutes of the game when he played a perfect ball to Jack McInerney, who missed a wide open chance to score the fourth goal of the game. Afterwards, teammates playfully ribbed McInerney about denying Wheeler his first MLS assist.
“The guy finishes those nine out of 10 times,” Wheeler said. “It was just unlucky I happened to b the guy that passed it to him that one time.”
Despite missing out on the assist, the 6-foot-4 forward has still been impressing his coaches, from playing well in an early-season friendly against Pumas to scoring two goals in a game while being loaned to the Harrisburg City Islanders last week.
Now, he hopes he can keep it going tonight against Reading, one of his former teams.
“That would be an ideal situation to get more minutes,” Wheeler said. “It’s a friendly so hopefully it’s guys that haven’t gotten time and just want to continue to build.”