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Lineup breakdown: Union D vs Dynamo O

(Photo: Nicolae Stoian)

Our break down of the Philadelphia Union/Houston Dynamo playoff matchup continues. PSP’s roving correspondent Adam Cann lays out the big questions and Eli Pearlman-Storch answers them. Today’s topic, the Dynamo offense versus the Union defense.

Not there to finish

The Dynamo strike force accounted for only 17 of the team’s 45 goals in 2011, and no forward had more than five. To contrast, the Union got 26 of their 44 goals from strikers.

While they won’t lead the league in scoring, the Houston front line knows its job and does it well. The Dynamo need to establish themselves in the opponent’s final third to be effective. This gives the rest of the team time to flow into the box and challenge for Brad Davis crosses. Thus, the strikers are responsible for playing with their backs to goal and drawing contact and attention. As soon as they see an outlet, they spread the ball wide or lay off for a Geoff Cameron shot.

The last march of the Ents

6’2″. 6’0″. 6’1″. 6’0″. 6’2″. 6’4″. The listed heights of the six currently rostered Dynamo strikers. Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes are listed at 6’0″. The other Union backs are considerably shorter.

The big boys in front are there to wear you down; they want to draw contact. If the strikers aren’t drawing fouls and earning corner kicks, how does defender Bobby Boswell end up with five goals on the season? The entire team knows how to create good positions from which to score. A theme that stands out in reviewing the Dynamo is how well each player understands his role, something that was less apparent on the Union this season.

Play inside then get it wide

The Dynamo curled 45 crosses into the box from open play in two games against the Union this season. That’s one every four minutes for those keeping score at home. With a big assist from Brian Carroll, the Union defense dealt with all of them.

You shall not pass

The Union defense has shown great discipline and organization this season, and they handled the Dynamo strikers with relative ease. While Houston benefits from a system that stays relatively static regardless of personnel, this allows strong defensive teams to prepare with a good idea of what is coming their way.

When Houston plays the ball wide, Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan must be quick to react and close space without diving in. And if the Dynamo overload one side, midfielders must track back to help.

Criss cross

Brad Davis got off 28 crosses in 180 minutes against the Union, ten of which found a friendly head or foot. The Dynamo are very creative in how they get Davis the ball, moving him around the pitch and putting multiple players in the same area to draw off defenders. Sheanon Williams will see a lot of Davis on Sunday and next Thursday. Is the Sheanomenon up to the task?

The other big question is how the defense will deal with Geoff Cameron. If Brian Carroll is forced to help wide, who keeps an eye on Cameron in the middle? The center middie was tied for the team lead in goals and he burned the Union at PPL Park in August.

The X-factor in all this is Carlo Costly. The Honduran has only managed to get 13.6% of his shots on target since arriving in August, but he gives the Dynamo a strong, speedy option that they are still learning how to use.

So there it is: A big, bruising front line tasked with setting up the midfield against an intelligent and organized back four. Who has the advantage?

Eli’s Verdict

Speed kills the Union defense. Big, dumb animals, not so much. So be it Brian Ching, Carlo Costly, Jason Garey, Cam Weaver or any other overgrown, orange-clad punk that dares enter the Union box, they will be sternly rebuffed. Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes are just too good. Just as they were when Houston visited PPL Park in August.

In that game, Houston was lucky to escape with a point through Geoff Cameron’s late equalizer, but do not forget that with their defense in shambles, Cameron has moved into a central defending role over the last month, thus limiting his ability to join in the attack. That change in formation nearly cuts the pipeline of service in half. And while Brad Davis is an excellent player, I’ll keep my money on Sheanon Williams keeping a tight enough eye on the Houston playmaker to adequately limit his chances over 180 minutes.

Davis is also not as much of a terrifying match up for Gabriel Farfan as might be expected, should he switch wings. The left-footed Davis prefers to cut into the field to serve balls from the right wing, rather than drive towards the endline, where Garfan has looked the weakest during his time as a fullback.

So, provided they can maintain their organization against set pieces, Garfan-Califf-Valdes-Williams will come up trumps over a Houston offense lacking in the creative quality to overcome the Union’s greatest strength during the 2011 season.

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