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Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Houston Dynamo

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Game time: Saturday, 8:00pm ET


Any time an old streak ends, a new one can begin and that is exactly what will be on the minds of the Union players when they square off against Houston this Saturday at PPL Park. A week ago, the Union had their home unbeaten record smashed during a poor performance against the visiting Colorado Rapids and, with a dour midweek draw at Chicago providing little comfort, the Union will need to show the intensity, determination and composure that was missing from the past two performances.

Despite tapping into a recent vein of good form, Houston have yet to secure their first road win of the season. Last week, Brian Ching bagged a brace in his return from injury and suspension, helping the Dynamo to a 3-1 victory over Seattle. But despite a talented roster, Houston has yet to find their legs away from Robertson Stadium with a paltry six goals scored in 11 matches.

With rookie Will Bruin on the shelf with a long term knee injury, Houston recently augmented their attack by acquiring 29-year-old Honduran attacker Carlo Costly. Any fan of the US National Team will be familiar with Costly’s ability to give defenses fits, scoring 18 times in 48 appearances for Los Catrachos.

The past week saw the Union back four ruthlessly exposed by the lightning quickness of first Colorado’s Sanna Nyassi and Omar Cummings and later Chicago’s Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro. Despite the prowess of Houston’s over sized strike force (Ching, Costly, Bruin and Jason Garey are all 6′ or above), the Union defense, bolstered by the return of Sheanon Williams from suspension, will be relieved to play against physical, back-to-goal style forwards who lack the speed to get in behind them.

While Houston has struggled to score goals on the road, lately the Union have struggled to score goals, period. The past two matches have seen the Union midfield severely over-matched and outplayed. Thus, in what is becoming typical Nowak fashion, the changes are likely to rain down. Roger Torres was hard done by the coaching staff on Wednesday, putting him into the center of the park alongside both Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi. While he must shoulder some blame for being far from his electric best, it is hard to evaluate his performance with too many people getting in his way and no right midfielder to speak of. But the Union have not shown patience with Torres and he will likely be replaced in the starting lineup, perhaps by Veljko Paunovic. It was Paunovic’s stunning blast that stood up to earn the Union a road point at Chicago, but he drifted out of the game far too frequently, going long spells without so much as a touch on the ball. The goal was sufficient to earn his keep on the day, but playing in the midfield, he will need to be much more active to give the Union attack the kick start it so sorely needs.

Danny Mwanga should get a chance for another run-out beside Sebastien Le Toux, though at this point it is anybody’s guess as to which striker is more lacking in confidence. Le Toux’s rough 2011 continues to grind forward, while Mwanga’s self belief has left him, with no better illustration being his decision not to pull the trigger on Wednesday night as he raced in on Sean Johnson with a chance to snatch a road victory against the run of play. Oddly for the Union, while their top two hitmen flounder in front of goal, the coaching staff has seemingly forgotten about Jack McInerney, with the pint-sized poacher failing to see the field since he earned an 11 minute cameo when the Union visited San Jose nearly a month ago.

For the Union, it is less about who plays as it is about how they play. If the energy and commitment are there, the Union can play some of the most uptempo, exciting soccer in MLS and it is up to players and coaches alike to rediscover that spark in front of a home crowd.

Key Matchups


Tonight’s contest is less about the opposition and more about the Union themselves. Sure, Brad Davis is an excellent provider, Geoff Cameron is tough and talented in the middle of the pitch and Brian Ching and Carlo Costly will be a handful up top. But given the erratic, fractured performances turned in by the Union of late, the focus needs to be on their own play, not that of their opponents. The Union have all the requisite talent and ability to win this game and if they show it, they will. But if they continue down the road playing like they did against Chicago and Colorado, the Dynamo will make them pay.

Probable starters

Philadelphia: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon

Defenders: Gabriel Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams

Midfielders: Justin Mapp, Veljko Paunovic, Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga

Houston: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Tally Hall

Defenders: Hunter Freeman, Bobby Boswell, Andre Hainault, Corey Ashe

Midfielders: Colin Clark, Geoff Cameron, Adam Moffat, Brad Davis

Forwards: Brian Ching, Carlo Costly

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia – QUESTIONABLE: FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain)

Houston – OUT: FW Will Bruin (L knee surgery); MF Danny Cruz (R quad strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Calen Carr (concussion)


Union 1–0 Houston. The Jekyll and Hyde Union need to find some rhythm. And soon. However, the constant changes to the personnel and formation have confused the attack and sapped the life out of Philadelphia’s most electric players. In times such as these these, the Union count on their defense and tonight will be no different. Look for Califf and Valdes to shake off their recent disappointing play and return to the rock solid pairing of the early season. Their effort and leadership will get three points for the Union. Even if one of them has to score the goal himself.


  1. Feeling pretty good about this one…Union gonna score some goals tonight!!! Le Toux and Mwanga to shut us up! 3-0 Union…I completely agree with your starting lineup and hope Mwanga gets the start

  2. Normally I would be as confident going into this game as any game before. But Wednesday turned me into a cynic. I just can’t get images of Miggys name in the starting lineup out of my head. I can’t say in good faith I believe we should keep Le Toux starting or that Paunovic offers us more in the midfield than Marfan or Torres or even Okugo.
    And Mapp again? Why does it feel like for some players, a good start puts them on the bench the next game, and other players can be as ineffective as they want and still secure a starting spot.

  3. It would make me happy to see a right foot on the right side of the 4-1-3-2 alignment. Mapp has a chance if he will release the ball quicker. Can Paunovic make those much needed deliveries to the forwards? I hope so…

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