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Philadelphia Union 1-2 Houston Dynamo

The Union will have a one-goal differential to make up when they travel to Houston on Thursday evening in the second leg of their playoff matchup.

A frantic first half saw Houston score on only six minutes through Andre Hainault. One minute later, Sebastien Le Toux equalized for the Union. Calen Carr scored what ended up being the game winner on 30 minutes. The Union came out in the second half with a renewed energy, but failed to convert their chances.

We’ve come to expect the unexpected with the Union lineup, but it was a real surprise to see Stefani Miglioranzi in the starting XI. Even more surprising was his role as he slotted in between Carlos Valdes and Danny Califf in what was a five man back line. Brian Carroll was forced to cover much of the central midfield by himself, and Houston would find it easy to maintain possession because of it.

The Dynamo took the lead in the 5th minute through one of their biggest strengths, a set piece. Gabriel Farfan came in late on Danny Cruz on the Union’s left side, a mistimed tackle resulting in a yellow card for the defender. Brad Davis made the Union pay with a quality service right to the six-yard box where Hainault streaked in front of Miglioranzi and headed the ball beyond Faryd Mondragon.

The entire sequence was disappointing from the Union’s’ perspective. Houston’s prowess on set pieces is no secret, and to give Davis a chance to whip in a cross from 30 yards away after a needless foul was poor. To allow Hainault, Houston’s right back, to have a free header from six yards was even poorer.

The Union rebounded quickly though, equalizing just one minute later. After some good work through the midfield, Michael Farfan found himself in space 35 yards from goal. A nicely weighted ball over the top found Sebastien Le Toux unmarked 12 yards out, and the Frenchman made no mistake, finishing to the short side of Tally Hall.

Houston continued to press and the Union found it difficult to find much possession as the half wore on. The second goal seemed to fall on the shoulders of Carlos Valdes, who held Carr onsides when Califf, Migs, and Gabe Farfan had all stepped up. Brian Ching threaded a ball through the back line to the onrushing Carr who was able to poke the ball past Mondragon. A disappointing goal for the Union after fighting back, but Houston was good value for their lead.

There were no changes at the break, but a switch in formation allowed Philadelphia more possession to start the second half. Miglioranzi pushed up into his normal position next to Brian Carroll and the Union began to find their rhythm. Danny Mwanga scuffed a shot just wide of the net after a scrum in the box following a set play on 55 minutes. Le Toux forced Hall into a good save just minutes later when he fired a free kick from 35 yards out on goal.

Jack McInerney, Roger Torres and Freddy Adu all came on as the half wore on to search for the equalizer. The Union created plenty of chances with Torres and Adu both going close. But it was McInerney who probably had the best chance, when he headed a Freddy Adu cross off the bar in the 88th minute. But it wasn’t to be and Houston held on for the win.

Peter Nowak stated in his post game press conference that he felt the pressure would be on Houston to maintain the lead in the second leg. He would not commit to a change in lineup but did admit that the second half additions of Adu, Torres and McInerney gave the Union a renewed energy.


  1. I almost fell out of my seat at PPL when I realized that Migs was starting. I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised since Nowak has a very Andy Reid-like habit of trying to outsmart everyone, but seriously?! THEN I realize Migs is playing as basically a center back between Valdes and Califf, something the team HAS NOT DONE ALL YEAR!! Was Nowak serious?! That had to be the worst decision ever. It completely screwed up our defense and left us with no midfield whatsoever (not that that was ever our strong point in the first place, but still). I just couldn’t believe that we have a home playoff game and the strategy is to pack it in on our side of the pitch and just hope for a counterattack. Completely ridiculous.

    Ok, my rant is over, sorry, had to get that all out!

    • This would’ve been a good experiment — in midseason. A 5-4-1 on defense, a 3-5-2 on offense. The fullbacks were wingbacks. Interesting.

      But now? Wow. Just wow. I wish Nowak would’ve proved my Tuesday post wrong, but he confirmed it all.

      Imagine if Torres or Adu played 60 minutes. They both looked really good, particularly Torres.

      • PhillyHotspur says:

        Just like the Derby @ the NYRB, this game was lost the moment that Nowak landed at his starting 11……

        To work your arse off all year w/ an obviously winning formula…………And then to deviate from that when it matters the most…………..Absolutely criminal of Nowak who left the entire Union Nation down……………

        I’m fockin sick to my stomach w/ that first half line-up…………….i want answers.

  2. What an awful day for Nowak. Just a terrible strategy. On the bright side, the second half was quite lively and leaves me a hint of hope for the away leg. Was extremely impressed by Adu actually. Would like to see the caroll, torres, adu, marfan midfield again with mac and le toux up top.

  3. Yes, a seriously stupid decision on Nowak’s part. Where’s the trust in his top-5 defense? We didn’t need an extra man in the back the last time we played Houston, and regardless of their form and momentum coming in, a change like that was bound to screw up timing and communication, and so it did, resulting in both goals, arguably.

    I just don’t get it–we were the _HOME TEAM_. Doesn’t it stand to reason we should go all out offensively in the home leg, instead of turtling up? And, lo and behold, we improved tremendously in the second half, when our offensive sparkplugs came on. Absolutely baffling from Nowak.

  4. Yeah what a terrible game by Nowak.

    But on the other hand, I loved how good our young players looked in the second half. Marfan, Torres, Jack Mac even Adu.

    And Jack MAc I thought was better than Mwanga. Like I say, he makes piercing runs into the box very well.

  5. Also, I would like to point out the Union player marking the Dynamo’s first goal scorer was MIGGY.

  6. I nearly shit when I saw Migs in there. I figured that Nowak would try and play it overly safe defensively, but not sticking a holding mid in the back. Must’ve figured that his “veteran presence” would make a difference, but his lack of game shape and playing time with the backfield ultimately hurt the Union. Might as well have put freaking Gonzalez in the back.

    He obviously wanted a veteran lineup, but that’s not what this Union team is based upon. It’s made of having steady vets combined with the speed and flash of the younger players. He got scared, tried to play it safe, and it backfired. Would’ve liked to have seen his ballsy confidence in young players like Pfeffer during two of the most important games of the year.

    I’d ideally like to see a McInerney-Le Toux, Adu-Carroll-Old Serbian-Marfan, Garfan-Valdes-Califf-Williams lineup. Sub in Mwanga for Jack Mac, Torres for Old Serbian, and Justin Mapp for Marfan. Yahtzee.

  7. Not going to restate the obvious here, but would note that I am for the idea of experimenting with this system again….just not in a playoff game. What has happened to Danny Mwanga? He looks horrific. He has no confidence, his decision making is terrible and his work rate is gone. Does anyone have any idea?

    Rant that everyone will agree with: Refs. ‘nough said. MLS needs to stop talking about player development and stadium/market expansion. IF they truly want to develop into a top class league they need to start devoting considerable resources to getting better referees from the USF. The referees are actually holding back and even lowering the quality of play. The playoffs so far have been defined by referees losing control of games and hampering the play. Terrible.

    • Yes, a thousand times yes. The Union screwed up quite a bit with all the experimentation, but the refereeing was inexcusable. It wasn’t even a matter of poor calls that hurt the Union, it was the fact that the refs seemed to completely lose control of the game. When at the end the Houston player went down near Houston’s goal, they stopped play, and then he promptly got back up and ran back to the field, yet they did nothing about it, I lost all respect for them. This is a huge problem and will continue to hurt the game in the US, not to mention the image of the MLS to the rest of the scocer world.

  8. it’s all on nowak this game. i’m sure even migz knows he doesn’t belong out there at this point. every one else gets it. torres needed to start.

  9. Typically Nowak, thinking he’s so much smarter than everyone else. Why the hell would you play so defensively right from the onset? ATTACK! It’s a friggin’ playoff game.

    Mwanga looks terrible because he’s barely played at all this year. We can again thank Nowak and FatChooch for that.

  10. Surprised no one is talking about Mondragon. Yeah, he made that kick-ass save in the 2nd half – but I want MacMath in goal Thursday. Frankly, Faryd should never have come back to the starting lineup. Ever since his return, our team is back to being in a shambles.

    Mondy’s goal kicks are completely pathetic. Turnover after turnover. None of his kicks actually reach someone in the Blue & Gold.

    Zac’s goal kicks were so much better. If Mondy does start Thursday, I want every goal kick to be a pass to Califf or Williams to lead the charge up.

    • PhillyHotspur says:

      I’ve been a big proponent of Mondragon, but he was definitely disappointing yesterday.

      He clearly needs to be more aggressive and could have come out on both goals.

      He sat still on the header in the box.

      He could have anticipated that pass better on the 2nd goal and come off his line.

      He had a poor game for sure………….But I still think he should be starting

  11. I’m glad someone else mentioned Dragon. Someone please explain to me what he does goalkeeping wise better than MacMath? I’m tired off watching him not come out on crosses or breakaways. If your just going to stand in the middle of the goal and continually watch balls go into the side of the net either pick a side or come out. It’s been numerous times where shots simply are not contested. Also I’m not getting the love for Torres? What exactly did he do yesterday so well? He only looks for the killer pass and takes 35 yards shots and I don’t recall him every actually scoring one. On a positive side I don’t think any of the other players played poorly (even Migs didn’t do bad he just shouldn’t have been out there). If Freddy can play that way again and Jack Mac continues to make those runs I think Jac Mac for Mwanga and Freddy for Migs will be the lineups changes.

    • In 22 minutes Torres connected on 14 passes, he dropped deep to receive and distribute the ball and worked hard to push the game.
      Adu on the other hand played 16 minutes and completed 4 passes. While Adu hung out in the danger zone looking to pound the ball into the net, Torres did the work to make sure the ball was in the attacking third all the time.
      If JackMac gets a start (and he should) Torres should also be on the pitch right next to Marfan, who was very good.
      Or you could have adu and torres on together and no Justin Mapp, that’d be nice.

      • PhillyHotspur says:

        Whether or not Torres had a good game yesterday, i think the point w/ him in the line-up………..he actually brings a creative service in the middle of the pitch.

        Vs Nowak’s selection of a 1 man central Midfield involving Brain Carroll…………..No wonder Dynamo had all of the possession in that first half….

      • Notice how the River End were chanting for Torres before he came on? Every time he comes in the game the tempo changes immediately.
        Migs starting and five at the back, ridiculous! So much for the experienced coach in the playoffs.
        While I am at it can someone please teach Mapp how to use his right foot – other than standing on it!

      • My section (114) usually starts the Roger Torres chants about 10 minutes into the game and never stops. It was basically nonstop on Sunday!
        Can someone also please teach Mapp how to dribble with his head up and pass the ball like 20 seconds before he actually does?!

      • I here you on the creative part for sure. What the Union really miss is Keon on the left for Mapp and Pauno. Pauno is the only real physical player up top anymore. Yesterday tget essentially took the spot filled by torres, adu, or pauno and use it on Migz in the back. I just don’t get why you would do that in a home playoff game?

  12. This one’s on Nowak (as mention by everyone)…I think he is guilty of over thinking as a PSP writer (dont remember who) pointed out earlier this month

  13. Also, Marfan’s “nicely weighted ball” was a shot attempt that deflected off the head of a Dynamo defender. Le Toux’s constant hustle made that play.

    I told a friend Saturday night that if Union started 2 defensive midfielders they would lose. Even though Migs wasn’t playing in the midfield, it meant the team would not be threatening enough going forward, which is the best place to keep the ball: away from your own goal.

    And with goaltending, I didn’t think that MacMath would be this good in his rookie season, but I’m also leaning towards being ok with Mondragon sitting.

    • Seriously though.

      CRAZY props to Le Toux for plucking that out of the air. For a guy who has struggled with his touch all year to bury that chance on the over-the-shoulder volley.

      hot damn that was sweet.

  14. Watched the Union’s shooting drill before the game and knew they would not score more than one. Unbelievable that in a shooting drill most, except Letoux, could not get the ball on target. Was worse than in a HS warmup; and these guys are professionals! So no surprise that the shots from players such as Mwanga and Williams missed the goal. Mwanga’s shot from 6′ out was especially a bad miss.

    Also was dissappointed in all the head balls Houston won; am sure the percanteage was circa 80%. If we want to win big on Thursday then we have to win more headers!

    Also, how can it be that we don’t have runners heading to the front post on corners to flick the ball on? It as a crime how many short corners were headed away easily by Houston because we had no one there.

    Also wish that Zac had started. Don’t think we have won since he was ‘benched’…..

    • True story: 0-2-1 with the dragon back. The team, and specifically Valdes, has not looked as confident in front of him. Somewhat contrary to what one would have expected given his vocal leadership the year through. I would not have minded the kid in there Sunday, however i don’t think Nowak can make the change now. Total focus must be on scoring goals.

  15. Josh T. of Kensington says:

    Dan was so right. Nowak out thought himself on this one. Our defense was only confused by its new formation, and the lack of Torres from the start reduced our offense to the long ball.

    The decision to play five backs was far worse than the Migs decision, because, even with Migs, the Union were the best team in the first twenty of the second half.

    Given Nowak’s obstinence though, I think we should now say the opposite of what we want.

    So I’d like to see Migs again. And I totally agree. It’s good to be down a goal because then you only need to score two goals to win, instead of only needing to score one.

  16. Nakazawa starts on Thursday.

    It’s the only (il)logical next step.

    You heard it here first!!!

    • PhillyHotspur says:


      Expect the illogical followed by lack of productivity by Nowak’s selection………

      how about throwing the 16 year old in there again to a situation just like in Harrision where the moment is simply too big and he is destined to fail

      what a farce

  17. Nowak has to be blamed for the result on Sunday. To play defensively, against a team that is so good with set peaces, in a home, play off game is just silly.

    They should have come out and set the pace. Instead they bunkered in from the very begining. Its like they were playing for a tie AT HOME!

    Well, Nowak got the team to the play offs. But he has been making very strage startegic and line up decisions all summer. A good coach, just like a good player, has to show up when he is needed most.

    I understand that the team has no midfield or possession ability. But Nowak is at fault in that regard as well. In any case, bad game all around.

  18. 3-5-2 I could see where Novak was trying to go with this. Concerned ’bout Houston’s size and our inability all season to handle balls served into our box in the air. Play Migz as a 3rd center back with size to provide extra cover for Valdez/Califf. Williams and Garfan playing as wing backs, both technically sound on ball can attack and fit enough to recover and defend. Problem was Mapp/Carroll/Marfan as centre mids. How was that supposed to work? In a 3-5-2 you need 2 D-mids to cause havoc and slow down Houstons attack allowing wing backs to recover. Mapp/Marfan/Carroll kept running into each other not sure who was going where. Migz looked as if he was just getting in Valdez/Califf’s way and all 3 looked very uncertain who was responsible for stepping to and marking who. Tactically Novak was way ahead of his players. We don’t have the skill level that Barca does. He’s gotta realize you can’t just convert players the way Pep does. #CmontheU

    • My point being 3-5-2 isn’t as defensive a formation as most are making it out to be. It can be a very attacking formation when the midfield is controlled and you maintain posession. The U did neither.

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