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Second Leg Preview: Union v Dynamo

(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

What: Philadelphia Union v Houston Dynamo

When: 8:30pm EST

Where: Robertson Stadium, Houston, TX, USA


TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN-Deportes

Referee: Ricardo Salazar

Messing with Texas

Despite the number of times Texas has rudely suggested we not mess with it, Thursday, November 3, 2011 needs to go down in future Union lore as the day the Union went down to Houston and messed up Houston’s game plan, ultimately stealing victory on the road. Because, it’s not like Houston is hiding their tactics. Home. Road. Neutral site. Houston will not be changing their system.

First, they win the ball in midfield. Second, they spread it wide to the wing and third they pump crosses into the box, looking for their fleet of big, strong forwards. Wham. Bam. Thank you, officer.

Enough has been said about the Union’s failed attempt to reshuffle their defensive tactic before the first leg. Dropping additional numbers into defense failed to deal with the threat posed by the Dynamo because, quite simply, when Brad Davis has enough time to serve balls into the Union box at his leisure, that battle has already been lost.

The best defense is a good…

Say it with me. OFFENSE.

And not just because the Union enter the game attempting to fight off a one goal deficit. The Union need to adapt an aggressive, high pressure stance from the opening whistle because it allows both Sheanon Williams and Gabe Farfan to live life high up the pitch, where they can deprive Davis and Danny Cruz or Colin Clark of possession.

In the first leg, both fullbacks were tasked with getting forward as attackers and the spacing on the wing fell apart. Both Danny Califf’s and Carlos Valdes’ effectiveness as defenders rapidly diminishes the further they get from goal. Thus, with Davis and Cruz allowed to to roam behind Williams and Garfan, it was always going to be a long day.

But, that can be fixed.

By returning to a four man midfield and maintaining consistent pressure on the Camargo, Moffat and Cameron, Sheanon and Garfan can put the squeeze on their men before they receive the ball, rather than having to chase after them once they receive it in space.

Settle down Faryd

While it began as a minor concern, Mondragon’s problematic distribution has grown into a serious issue since his return from injury. Attempting to kick start the Union attack, the Union No. 1 consistently pumps the ball up the field off of any save or claimed cross. Too often, these bombs fail to find a target in blue. Perhaps he feels that Houston, just the most recent example, can be caught out with numbers up the field, but his rushed delivery is about as effective as when Califf or Valdes resort to pounding long balls forward.

Which is to say it’s not.

Despite being one of the best at taking the air out of the ball on goal kicks and other restarts, Mondragon’s overexcited service needs to be reigned in so the Union can retain possession, recover their shape after a Houston attack and build from the back with composure.

Will he or won’t he?

Michael Farfan and Veljko Paunovic are both listed as questionable for tonight’s tilt in Houston. But with the season hanging in the balance, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they both don’t play a major part in the final outcome. After all, that’s what the playoffs are all about, gutting it through the collection of bumps, bruises and strains that have been endured throughout the course of the regular season. And the Union better hope they can come through because whether it is through injury, loss of form, alien abduction (miss you Keon) or the simple fact that the Union carry a light roster, the reinforcements that Peter Nowak can legitimately turn to are diminishing in quantity.

Keep the bus running

As in. Don’t park it too soon.

When the Union get it in their heads to attack in numbers, they’re one of the most dangerous teams in MLS. Once they’ve scored the opener however, they display an alarming tendency to revert into a more submissive, docile nature, conceding possession, territory—and all too often leads—all in the name of protecting them. This cannot happen tonight if the Union want to walk out of Robertson Stadium and into the next round of the playoffs. Given Geoff Cameron’s new defensive role, the list of players who can go on rampaging runs and cause problems on the counterattack is quite short. Neither Brian Ching nor Calen Carr, or anyone Houston can bring off the bench, should put much fear into the Union backline at any time other than when Brad Davis has the ball at his feet.

So attack. In numbers.

Houston’s defense is much improved since gaining Cameron, but they are by no means a well gelled, seasoned unit. If the Union push bodies forward with consistency they will have success. And they should do it whether the score line is 0-0 or if it is 3-0. The lesson of Toronto cannot be forgotten. After bossing the game completely for 45 minutes, the halftime reshuffle of formation and tactics saw the Union wipe away their own momentum and allow an inferior Toronto side back into the game.

If they give Houston the chance to win this game, they will. So just don’t let them. Ninety minutes of aggression and attacking soccer should do the trick. A full ninety minutes.

Starting Lineups


Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan, Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp, Freddy Adu, Michael Farfan, Veljko Paunovic, Sebastien Le Toux


Tally Hall, Alain Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe, Brad Davis, Luiz Camargo, Adam Moffat, Danny Cruz, Calen Carr, Brian Ching



Roger Torres, Jack McInerney, Danny Mwanga


Carlo Costly, Will Bruin, Colin Clark



OUT: OUT: GK Thorne Holder (concussion); FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Michael Farfan (R foot contusion); FW Veljko Paunovic (R hamstring strain); PROBABLE: MF Justin Mapp (L quad strain)


OUT: Cam Weaver (hip)


The Union will be the first to score as they will be raring to go after Sunday’s embarrassing first half. Whether they go on and get the winner is entirely up in the air. If they park the bus in the 45th, 60th or even 70th minute, looking to sweat out the second half and try to win it in extra time, they will concede the vital winner, as we saw most recently against Toronto, but most poignantly when Houston’s Geoff Cameron broke the Union’s hearts back in August at PPL Park.

If they play whistle to whistle, they’ll run out deserved winners, because when the chips are down, they are the better team.


  1. The Union will win in 90

  2. Not feeling totally confident tonight.

    I understand Pauno is our only factor in the air, and he has played well for us. But I simply think it’s a matter of his style not fitting what we need right now. And lets face it, once you are a good team, you are going to have good players sitting on the bench. Pauno would be my first casualty.

    But hey, I hope leaving Le Toux on an island works this time, I hope Mapp decides for the first time this year to play well for his entire shift, I hope Adu finally plays as well as Torres has ever since Adu got here. I’m just not sure all those things will happen at once.

  3. I’m still pulling for a 4-1-4-1 lineup (without Pauno)…I wanna see Torres, Mapp, Marfan and Adu own the midfield!!! CMON U!!!

  4. I pray the team has watched film – on an infinite loop – of their 2 goal shutout against the Sounders at CenturyLink Field. They play like that, don’t sit back after scoring the first goal, and go right for the jugular, then they’ll be planning their itinerary and making reservations for some KC BBQ this weekend. I’m not holding my breath, however …

  5. No one is giving us a chance. The match was discussed last night on FSC after the Kansas win, and then this morning on FMSirius during the 7-9am World Football Show. In both cases they predicted a Houston win so I hope that the team knows that they are the underdog and play their hearts out; and not just during the last 10 minutes. This is a win or die situation!!! CU at Kildares tonight!

  6. There’s nothing left to say. Get it done, guys!

  7. And since this could be our last game this year I figure I might as well and get my desired lineup out there as well, for novelty.

    Williams – Califf – Valdes – Farfan
    Jack Mac – Le Toux

    If we go down, I want to go down swinging, trying to impose OUR will on the game, and trying to do what we do best.

  8. Just seen the lineup, what does Roger Torres have to do to start a game again? Le Toux on the right, isn’t that where he doesn’t score goals. I sure hope I am wrong but I am not liking it. Maybe Jack Mack can save us?

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