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Lineup breakdown: Union mid vs Dynamo mid

(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 midfield versus the Union midfield.


Tell me everything you know about Luiz Camargo. Yes, his name sounds like Camaro. No, that doesn’t mean he’s fast and stylish.

Well, he is fast. But in terms of Brazilian midfielders, he falls more into the Lucas Leiva mold than the Ronaldinho or Kaka. The coaching staff will make sure the Union get to know Luiz Camargo this week, because he is a major reason why the Houston Dynamo are the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Cameron or Camargo…it won’t matter

The Houston defense was shambolic in a 3-0 loss to Kansas City on September 10. In that match Camargo, who had joined the team a month earlier, made his debut as a substitute. Maybe Dom Kinnear was already planning on moving Geoff Cameron into the back, or maybe the Dynamo coach just felt Camargo earned a start. No matter the reason for the change, Camargo started four days later against Columbus, Cameron dropped into the back line, and Houston has not lost since.

In the six games that Camargo has started, the Dynamo are 4-0-2 and they have yet to be shut out. They have put up their own goose eggs twice, and that’s exactly what Dom Kinnear expected when he snapped up the Brazilian. “He’s very good in man-to-man marking and I liked the way he played the game. He kept the ball and played very simple.”

That calmness has brought organization to a Houston midfield that spent much of the season trying to find a delicate balance between crashing the box and containing the opponent’s counterattack. Camargo’s partner in the middle is Adam Moffat, a Scotsman who was having a consistently inconsistent season before teaming up with the little Brazilian.

Adam Moffat, hot at the right time.

Moffat is no Brian Carroll. He plays a holding role but he is often more defensive in his positioning than in his thinking. With Camargo’s discipline replacing Cameron’s attacking instincts, Moffat has been able to expand his game even as the midfield has tightened up defensively.

Whoever partners Brian Carroll in the Philly midfield has to pick up Moffat defensively. Carroll will stay deep and help Califf and Valdes deal with the big strikers. Moffat swings a big stick, so if he’s left alone near the box, activate forcefields and hope for the best.

On the right wing, Kinnear has used Danny Cruz and Colin Clark interchangeably. Cruz has the last two starts, but predicting who will see the field Sunday night is like guessing Peter Nowak’s subs. Don’t bother.

Both players have the same job: Get wide, get open, get off a cross. If Cruz and Clark aren’t whipping balls in, it’s because Brad Davis is. In the Houston system, the right winger has to read Davis’s movement and switch sides, cover defensively, and do whatever else it takes to get MLS’s top assist man space and time.

The big question yet to be asked: How does the Union midfield handle Brad Davis?

They don’t. That unenviable responsibility falls on the shoulders of the outside backs. The midfield must track back and make sure that neither wingback gets overloaded. Davis can be stopped one-on-one. But Houston is very adept at forcing defenders to give Davis space by either sending their outside back on an attacking run or pushing a central midfielder into the gap Sheanon or Gabe will leave behind when they get touch-tight on the man with the ball.

If the Union midfield does one thing well on Sunday, it must be the counterattack. Reading plays and finding lanes for defensive outlets will be key for the Union.

Where does Marfan settle?

Presumptive rookie of the year Michael Farfan has earned a postseason start, and he tends to come deep to help relieve pressure. Presumptive-ROY-Farfan has been most effective when he has freedom to roam. If Paunovic is out and the Union go with Mwanga up top, presumptive-ROY-Farfan will be restricted to a more typical winger’s role. Either way, he will be the first link out of the back and will likely share responsibility for shutting out Brad Davis.

From presumptive rookie of the year Michael Farfan, the ball should move to either a second striker or Justin Mapp then up to Le Toux. At times this season, Mapp seemed to think opposing players were pretty distractions, which made it surprising when they tackled him. Since returning from injury, Mapp has shown more willingness to make space for himself and this can only be a good thing.

Freddy Adu has yet to dribble by anything with legs and Roger Torres is back in the dog house, so Mapp needs to be on his game or the Union midfield will have that familiar disjointed feeling.

Eli, we know the Union midfield won’t make it look pretty. But will they get the job done?

Eli’s Verdict

No. They won’t. Because as appropriate as I believe it is, Roger Torres will probably not get the start. With both Adu and Mapp on the field, the Union midfield is so defensively lacking that the support for the fullbacks simply will not be there. Which is not to say that the defense is not up to the job, because they are, whether or not they get a lot of help.

While Justin Mapp has shown more drive of late, he has yet to produce anything that resembles consistent service to Le Toux as he generally prefers to go it alone, rather than seek out his teammates. This problem is compounded by Freddy Adu’s continued inability to link midfield and attack. Additionally, the usually aggressive pairing of Michael Farfan and Sheanon Williams on the right side of midfield will be held in check by the threat posed by Davis, with neither Union player wanting to expose the other to Houston’s most dangerous threat.

With Moffat, Camargo and Cameron all poised to knock the ball around and control the middle of the park, the Union midfield could be left to pick at the scraps left over after all the good possession is gone. And it cannot be understated just how good Brad Davis is— all of those assists, they’re no fluke.

If Roger Torres is called on to start the match, the Union’s chances increase dramatically, as Torres is the type of player who wants to get on the ball and make things happen. Unlike Mapp and Adu, Torres is a pure creator, not someone who does their best work after a teammate puts them in great position. Torres’ effort to check back to the defense is also of great benefit for the linkage with the defense, as Brian Carroll’s contribution to the Union’s build up play is minimal. Torres closes the gap with the Houston midfield, though ultimately, the Dynamo still get the nod.


  1. Unfortunately I think this is an accurate assessment…and reason why I’m pushing for a four attacking midfield set with Marfan, Adu, Torres and Mapp starting (Carroll starting at D mid)

  2. I wonder how Adam feels about Marfan as Rookie of the Year. 🙂

  3. Free Keon!

  4. Part of me wants to beleive that Nowak has been playing with us this season and knows what needs to happen to win this game.

    But the other half of me knows that isn’t true, and that he will start Adu and sit Torres, and we’ll play with one striker, desperately trying to punt long balls to Le toux.

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