Union midfielder Fafa Picault was suspended for three games on Friday by Major League Soccer for "use of offensive language" during a preseason closed-door scrimmage against Orlando City in Orlando on Feb. 14. He was also fined an undisclosed amount. Orlando's Pierre da Silva was hit with the same punishment over the incident.
Picault will miss the Union's season opener against New England on Saturday (7 p.m., PHL17), the March 17 game against Columbus and the March 31 game against Colorado. The first two games are at home; the third is on the road.
The suspension is a big blow to the Union's attack. Picault was expected to start on the right wing, and form a high-speed tandem with left winger David Accam. Marcus Epps or Fabian Herbers will likely play in Picault's absence.
The league office said in a statement: "MLS has a zero-tolerance policy against offensive, discriminatory language at its games (including preseason games and scrimmages), and is committed to creating an environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity."
A Union spokesman said the team respects the decision and deferred all other comment to the league.
A league spokeswoman reached by phone Friday night declined to give further details on the incident.
There is precedent for suspensions of this length over abusive language. In 2013, Alan Gordon, then of San Jose, was suspended three games for a homophobic slur against an opponent. The same punishment was given for the same offense twice in 2012: to Colin Clark, then of Houston, and to Marc Burch, then of Seattle.