By JOEY SAMUEL
Although it doesn't count in the standings, the Philadelphia Union earned a quality win on Wednesday night in front of a paltry crowd at PPL Park.
Rookie forward Chandler Hoffman scored in the 88th minute to give the Union a 2-1 win over U.S. men's national team midfielder Jermaine Jones and German side Schalke 04. It was the Union's fourth win in four all-time international friendlies at PPL Park.
Philadelphia entered the game with an attack-minded formation, starting Danny Mwanga, Josue Martinez, and Lionard Pajoy, and despite resting a number of key starters including Danny Califf and Zac MacMath, the Union were the better team for much of the first half.
Pajoy opened the scoring in the 21st minute when he headed in a free kick from Keon Daniel. Late in the first half, Sergio Escudero beat backup Union goalkeeper Chase Harrison with a deep shot to tie the game. But Hoffman's late winner, off a cross from fellow rookie Raymon Gaddis, preserved the Union's perfect record in friendlies at PPL Park.
"Schalke is one of the best teams in the German league," said Mwanga after the game. "So being able to get out there and match their physicality and everything else they were doing, we were able to use that as motivation."
YOUNGSTERS IMPRESS AGAINST TOP COMPETITION
In what is becoming a familiar story to Union fans, the team's youngest players performed quite well on Wednesday against world-class competition in Schalke. Players like Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin shined in the second half, much like they did last year in a friendly agaist Everton FC.
“There’s nothing better than game experience,” said McLaughlin. “It’s the best way to improve and be able to go out and play and work on things you’ve been working on in practice. It’s a big step forward for all of us and it was great to be able to get some time in a great environment like this against a lot of great players.”
With the depth in midfield that Philadelphia possesses, it's difficult to see Pfeffer, McLaughlin, or Cristhian Hernandez getting on the field in league play any time soon, but they may see some action in the upcoming US Open Cup.
NOWAK TO RETURN ON SUNDAY
Having completed his two-game suspension, head coach Peter Nowak will return to the sidelines for this Sunday's important league match against the New York Red Bulls. With some key members of his team rested and others coming off the high of a win over a Champions League-bound team, Nowak will be looking for a strong performance from his squad in a game against a team that is arguably the Union's biggest rival.
The Union find themselves in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference with seven points through eight games. They've only scored five goals in those eight games, so they will have to pick up the offense if they hope to beat New York, who have recorded three straight shutouts and sit in second in the East with 19 points from 10 games.