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Lineup breakdown: Union O vs Dynamo D

(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 defense versus the Union offense.

Sure, this post could be called “Sebastien Le Toux vs Dynamo D,” but Seba himself would be the first to say that his statistical surge has been the direct result of the entire team finally getting on the same page going forward.

Le Toux has always been a versatile player. But last year he became an All-Star, MVP striker. The offense was built around his ability to move defenses and disorient defenders.

In the offseason, the team wanted a target man to partner the Frenchman. It was perfect in theory. Less so in practice. The Union were scoring 1.26 goals per game with Carlos Ruiz. They are batting a solid 1.33 gpg without him. And not to re-open the Ruiz can of whines worms, but we can assume that whatever changes in the offense have been made since Ruiz left the team have benefited Sebastien Le Toux.

11 goals and 9 assists means Seba has been involved in 44% of the Union’s goals and fully deserves to be a part of any MVP debate. Even more impressive is how Le Toux found his scoring touch just when it seemed like the team’s dearth of finishers would be their downfall.

Youth in revolt

But how has the rest of the team helped Le Toux reach top form? It all started with Roger Torres. Restored to the starting lineup after the team suffered a lethargic loss to Real Salt Lake, RoTo immediately set to work finding a rhythm with Le Toux. A comeback against the Revs was followed by a let down against Portland. But with Torres involved, the team was clearly taking a different tact going forward. Le Toux was making runs through the center of the park instead of up the wings. And Torres was catching on.

Against Columbus, the Colombian found the Frenchman and the team had its swagger back.

Michael Farfan was the next to get involved. Like Torres, he found himself back in the starting eleven and was making a nightly impact. Now the Union had three players operating at a high level. And the glue holding it all together? A Serbian striker who plays so deep you’d think he was going undercover.

Stylish senior

Veljko Paunovic is the unsung hero behind Philadelphia’s late season surge. Never has a player simply gotten out of the way so well. Whether it is opening space for Le Toux, giving some structure to the runs and movement of the young players, or simply challenging for an aerial ball in the middle of the pitch, Paunovic has handled the ugly little stuff that, during the first half of the season, was ignored like dirty dishes in a college dorm.

And thus we confront the major problem for the Union on Sunday: What to do without Pauno? When your offense has been cobbled together from nothing by sweat, spit, and a Serb well north of thirty, you are always living on the edge. Now that the secret weapon is sidelined with an injury, can the offense continue to click?

It certainly didn’t against New York.

It’s the trees…

The Houston defense is like an M. Night Shyamalan movie. It’s a mystery and it will probably provide a big event that, at some point, will change everything. But that doesn’t mean it’s good, or even interesting. Here’s the catch though: Geoff Cameron has been paired with Bobby Boswell in the middle. Corey Ashe is playing well. Doggone it, there is chance this defense might be good after all!

Cameron has been pushed deep, but he still has the freedom to push forward. Ashe has a green light all the time, so managing their forays into the final third is a major issue for Houston. So far they’ve done it well, but it’s something to look out for on Sunday.

The leadership Cameron has exhibited since joining the back four appears to be just what the doctor ordered. Although it may have been Tally Hall placing that order since the Dynamo goalie has been left exposed with regularity in 2011. No amount of rejiggering can fix what is a solid but undependable defense. The Union will get their opportunities if they can get out of the back quickly. But will they finish them?

Eli, the Union are not likely to dominate possession but they will have chances. Can Le Toux lead the line without his Serbian sidekick?

Eli’s verdict

Yup. He sure can. Not that this is news to anyone who reads the PSP or follows the Union, but Sebastien Le Toux is better than the Houston backline. All four of ’em. Combined.

If Geoff Cameron ventures forward, and he will, Le Toux gets to go mano-a-mano with Bobby Boswell. I’d fear for the Frenchman in a cage match, but on a soccer pitch, where Boswell’s kicks, elbows and rugby tackles will be, should be, please lord let them be, whistled as fouls, Le Toux will run riot.

And what if Cameron stays home, you ask? Le Toux will just have to beat him too. And he will. Like a drum. It is unlikely that Peter Nowak will deploy a second holding midfielder in the home leg of this series, so whether it is a second striker in the form of Danny Mwanga or Jack McInerney, or an extra attacking midfielder, perhaps Freddy Adu and Roger Torres in tandem, there will be plenty of offensive pressure to go around. This will be no repeat of last week’s performance against the Red Bulls where Le Toux toiled alone and in vain. He will have support and plenty of it.

And if all else fails and the support never comes… Le Toux will just have to lift the Union onto his shoulders as he already has so many times over these past two years. Because, you know, he can.


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