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Houston Dynamo 0 – 1 Philadelphia Union

It wasn’t pretty, but Philadelphia Union started the season off on the right foot with a 1-0 victory in Houston on Saturday night.

In a game void of many chances, Danny Califf scored his first-ever goal for the Union just five minutes into the game, and Philly held on for the clean sheet. The goal came from a scrum in the box after a terrific Sheanon Williams long throw was allowed to bounce.  Sebastien Le Toux blasted the ball off the cross bar from the penalty spot, and it fell to Califf, who tapped into the empty net.

The goal was one of the few bright spots in a game that, despite the fact that Houston had faced MLS opposition nine times in the preseason while the Union had faced none, was very clearly the first of the season for both teams.

After the goal, the first half featured little in the way of chances—or even quality play—with both teams having trouble keeping possession. New addition Carlos Ruiz found little in the way of service and even the industrious Le Toux saw little of the ball. With Peter Nowak deciding to start Stefani Miglioranzi alongside Brian Carroll in the central midfield, there was a lack of cohesion moving the ball out of the back. Justin Mapp and surprise starter Kyle Nakazawa were equally ineffective on the flanks. When they did attack, Houston drove down Sheanon Williams’ right side, with Brad Davis as the driving force. Twice he was able to play balls into the box around Williams, but both were dealt with by a backline that, despite its newness, would demonstrate an encouraging cohesiveness throughout the game..

The second half saw more of the same from both sides.

Danny Mwanga replaced Justin Mapp on 58 minutes and seemed to provide a bit of a spark, running at the Houston back line. But the Mwanga-Le Toux-Ruiz chemistry was lacking overall, and there were few chances for a second goal. The best chance of the half fell to Houston substitute Dominic Oduro, who failed to convert a Geoff Cameron cross rolling on the six-yard box, blasting over the bar with Mondragon clearly beaten. Gabriel Farfan replaced Kyle Nakazawa and Amobi Okugo replaced Ruiz late, but neither made much impact in a game that grew more and more disorganized as time went on. Still, Philly was able to hold on with Houston creating little, even after pushing forward in the final stages.

It may have been ugly, but, all in all, a great away win to start the season.

(PSP did a live chat during the match, which you can read here: https://phillysoccerpage.net/2011/03/19/dynamo-v-union-live.)

Captain Dragon

Faryd Mondragon was not tested much, with Houston managing only three shots on goal. The White Dragon commanded his box—and his defenders—well in his first league game with the team. He must be commanding the dressing room in a similar fashion since he has been handed the captain’s arm band, so becoming the team’s second ever captain. This move should free up Danny Califf to be able to concentrate on his defensive game without having to be the team’s official leader. Mondragon looked polished and confident and it seemed to flow through the team. It’s too early to tell, but this could be a great move by Nowak.

No Danny Mwanga

Kyle Nakazawa was handed a surprise start, and Carlos Ruiz was preferred over Mwanga. Many Union fans probably expected to see Mwanga and Ruiz up top together with Le Toux dropped further into the midfield. Instead we saw Le Toux and Ruiz up top with Nakazawa pushed to the right side. When Mwanga was introduced, the Union’s attack was boosted by his direct running style. Will we see him in the starting XI next week?

“The Fluid System” is a mess

When pressed for a look into his tactics last week, Peter Nowak claimed the Union would be playing a “fluid system” this season. That “fluid system” looked disorganized—and just down right sloppy at times—with no shape and hardly any quality possession. Last season there was a severe lack of width in the team. In the season opener, there was little on display that would make you believe that deficiency had been addressed.

Nowak started three central midfielders in Carroll, Migs, and Nakazawa, with Justin Mapp being far from a traditional winger. Sheanon Williams and Jordan Harvey did not provide the overlapping runs that were needed in a system like this. Amobi Okugo, another holding midfielder, was a late substitution. In sum, the midfield was a very centralized and sloppy mess.

Player Ratings:

GK Faryd Mondragon – 8

Cool, confident and already with a clean sheet. The Union’s new captain enjoyed a strong start to his career with Philadelphia.

RB Sheanon Williams – 6

Decent stuff from the 21-year-old right back. His long throw directly led to Califf’s goal, and his throws overall were impressive. Brad Davis seemed to like his chances taking him on and, on a few occasions, was able to beat Williams to deliver some dangerous crosses. Williams didn’t seem confident getting forward.

CB Danny Califf – 7

The goal boosts his score a bit. Not too much to deal with from the Houston attack, but he deputized well and seemed to be comfortable with Carlos Valdes.

CB Carlos Valdes – 6

Uneventful first match for the new center back. No big blunders.

LB Jordan Harvey – 6

Pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the left back. Harvey was solid against a fairly toothless Houston attack but offered almost nothing coming forward.

RM Kyle Nakazawa – 6

His start was a bit of a surprise but he failed to impress. Would not be surprised to see him on the bench next week. His set pieces were also not the quality we would expect.

CM Stefani Miglioranzi – 5

Did you hear his name called one time during the match? No, because he was almost invisible in the center of the pitch. He will have to improve his distribution and link-up play better from the back to the front.

CM Brian Carroll – 5

See Stefani Miglioranzi. An underwhelming debut.

LM Justin Mapp – 6

Led the team with two shots, both on goal. But he was absent for too much of the game and offered almost no service down the left side.

F Sebastien Le Toux – 6

It was  a quiet game for Le Toux. Nowak said earlier this week that his road performance needed to improve. This was not a good start as he failed to find much space, though he was man-marked for much of the match. He was unfortunate not to score when his shot hit the bar.

F Carlos Ruiz – 6

Had trouble finding the ball for long stretches. Went down a little too easily a few times. Seems like he’s still working out the chemistry.


Danny Mwanga – 7

Was a positive substitution and twice was very close to getting behind the Houston defense. The Union’s play seemed to lift when he came on the pitch.

Gabriel Farfan – 5

Replaced Nakazawa on the right and failed to influence the game much. Surprising to see the youngster, as he was only signed the day before the match.

Amobi Okugo – n/a

Came on very late.


  1. 1. Hideous game, beautiful result.

    2. Forgot Migs was on the field for about an hour.

    3. Rory Delap, I mean Sheanon Williams, scares me a bit.

    4. Great tactical shift by Nowak.

    5. I feel so safe with Captain Dragon between the sticks.

    • On #3: I think Houston was unprepared for the long throw. They just looked shocked when it happened. We were so close to tapping them in last season – fitting way to start the season and good test of the Houston defense early.

  2. PhillyHotspur says:

    The WhiteDragon between the woodwork is quite the difference………

    Good to see the clean sheet and lets hope to see our front 6 improve at PPL Park.

  3. Ruiz looked really, really out of shape. I am hoping he is still working towards match fitness, but besides some technical flashes he is definently no Moreno in terms of never give up/fighting with pressure.

  4. Ruiz shouldn’t get a 6. His touch was awful, a couple clear chances around the 18 to keep the play going and his concrete boots got in the way. Migs was also just dreadful, I noticed him the whole game because the movement of the ball stopped at his boots, if he wasn’t giving away the ball at the center of the pitch or booting it deep then he was making a terribly weighted ball to the guy 5 yards away. Williams looked a little overwhelmed by Davis but he is not the first RB to feel that way (growing pains). I was pretty impressed with Valdes. I also thought Carrol played his role well, he was a beast on defense and fine from the deep middle, he has grit and an engine that really kills the flow of the opposition in the middle of the field but he should not be paired with another strictly holding midfielder.

    I hope this lineup was because this was the season opener and we were on the road and that next week we will be a little more aggressive. My more aggressive lineup would be:

    Mapp-Carrol-?-Le Toux

    Who that question mark is I dont know. Def. not Migs but maybe the game will flow better without 3 CM and free some space for him. I don’t think Torres is ready to be that spot.

  5. It’s definitely nice to not crap your pants anytime the other team shoots anymore.

    I know he’ll be gone for the next few guys but I’m really hoping Okugo can claim the regular starting spot next to Carroll.

    But out of all the offseason moves, this is why the Jacobson one made the least amount of sense to me.

  6. Josh Trott says:

    I agree that the disappointments were Ruiz, Carroll, Migs, and Nak. In the first half, there was a number of exchanges in the midfield where the three mids mentioned above seemed to be in a triangle of only five hards, passing until the ball bounced off one of their shins.

    More largely, the team seemed committed to effective defense, and that worked, with the clean sheet, and only a few real chances conceded. The defense isn’t perfect, but its way better, and I do agree that there is a looseness to Williams marking, but it gives us some offensive potential, and he needs a little time.

    Offensively, it was disappointing. The clogged midfield contributed, Ruiz’s penchant for dispossession, and a lack of interesting runs and movement all created an ineffective, which was the more disappointing in that the U did a good job of taking the ball from the Dynamo in the midfield. I do believe that this is evidence of a more technically talented team.

    I will attribute the mediocre effort at creating chances and converting them as a product of nerves. I do think we’ve got to see someone in the midfield with more vision. Okugo or Torres. Please?

  7. My star of the game was definitely Califf, besides the nice garbage goal I thought that he had a very strong defensive game, he looked a little beat towards the end but that header he had, to knock the ball out of bounds to defend against the cross was an amazing play.

    3 pts/clean sheet – Ride the White Dragon!

  8. No surprise to see Migs fail again, just as he did for all 30 games last year. I have no idea why he’s still on the team.

    And for some reason he received such positive remarks from the media. I’m scratching my head as to why every day.

    So glad Fred is gone – now if we can only drop Migs.

  9. I think Valdes’ presence allows Califf to play his aggressive style rather than conservative like his underperforming last year.

    I thought Migs’ and Nakazawa’s constant give-aways were the reason the front 6 never got organized. I agree with Dan on this, Jacobson would have been very useful in the center Saturday.

  10. Also: MLS Matchday/Houston-broadcast gets a rating of -15 for failing to air the first 10 min. of the second half and for experiencing technical difficulties most of the game

  11. I was shocked at how sluggish Ruiz seemed at times. I couldn’t tell if he was just out of shape or lazy. There were several times where he just clearly made no effort on the ball. I thought with this being the first game with anew team and with his history playing against Houston that he would come out all fired up. He totally underwhelmed me.

    • Nope, that’s El Pescadito’s usual game. I followed him in Dallas for a couple years and was overjoyed when LA was dumb enough to give allocation money for that dirty, out-of-shape slug. He’ll dive constantly, but he will occasionally get goals outside the run of play when defenders underestimate him after all the laziness.

      Welcome to Hell.

  12. Wow….I really like our central defense. Valdes is a MANIAC. I just hope he can stay on the pitch and not get booked repeatedly. He and Califf will make people think twice about waltzing down our middle….Looks like a major upgrade to me.

  13. I’d love to see Torres replace Migs but I fear he (Torres)is permanently stuck in the doghouse for his tweeting incident involving MOF. I hope I’m wrong but Torres is probably being punished for breaching Nowak’s wall of secrecy and silence….Too bad!

  14. i want to see torres for sure

  15. Giving Valdes and Ruiz the same rating? Come on now.

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