Struggling Union to play starters in USOC, hope to rebound

CHESTER, Pa. – If there’s any consolation for the Philadelphia Union after they became the first team to lose to Toronto FC this season, it’s that they’ll be able to get right back out on the field and play another game just three days later.

Fresh off their disappointing 1-0 loss in Canada, the Union return home to host the USL PRO’s Rochester Rhinos in a US Open Cup game at PPL Park on Tuesday (7:30 pm ET). Despite the game not counting toward the league standings, Union manager Peter Nowak has said he will play his regulars and push for the win in the third-round match of the historic tournament.

“Guys, especially in the USL PRO, are always looking to go back to the league and show what they have,” Nowak said. “For them, it’s a chance. For us, after the Toronto game, we have to switch gears. But we’re going to play with the first team, that’s for sure.”

The Union are 0-2 all-time in USOC games, losing on penalty kicks to D.C. United last year and 2-1 to the Red Bulls in their 2010 expansion season. Tuesday’s contest will be Philadelphia’s first USOC game at PPL Park and also their first one against a lower-division team.

But that doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park for Philly, as the Rhinos feature a slew of former MLS players and MLS draft picks. The Union, meanwhile, have the league’s second-worst record at 2-7-2.

“We all know how the season is going, but at the same time we just have to keep our head up and try to get better,” Union striker Danny Mwanga said. “The game on Tuesday is just another chance to get out there and try to improve ourselves. We’re looking forward to being out there, playing at home, bringing our best and hopefully getting a win.”

Despite saying he’ll play with his first team, Nowak may not have some top players at his disposal. Leading scorer Gabriel Gómez is away with the Panamanian national team for World Cup qualifying, and goalkeepers Zac MacMath (concussion symptoms) and Chase Harrison (left ankle sprain) are among the club’s walking wounded.

Third-string ’keeper Chris Konopka made six saves against Toronto in what was the second MLS start of his career, and with such a short turnaround, he may get the nod again Tuesday.

“I think the way the result went today, hopefully some of the same guys will be playing,” Konopka said after the 1-0 loss to Toronto on Saturday. "Sometimes with the Open Cup, teams give other guys the chance to run. The way it is with Chase and Zac, maybe I’ll get the game as well. I’m looking forward to it.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com

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