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Match report: Dynamo 1-0 Union (3-1 agg)

For ten minutes it was there. The passion, the drive and the aggression that have inspired the team to so many tough wins was nearly palpable. It may have been palpable, because who knows what else kept knocking Brian Ching over.

And though the Union never, ever gave up, Houston survived the early pressure and then there was no way through for Philadelphia.

But don’t expect to see the Union players wandering around Philadelphia with their heads down. By pushing themselves to the limit for the full ninety minutes, the team fulfilled the only expectation their fans will always hold them to. The 2011 team shone with pride, and their supporters will be proud of them.

When Brian Ching turned a Brad Davis free kick into the far corner of Faryd Mondragon’s goal, the mountain simply became too high to climb. The Dynamo moved on to the Eastern Conference finals by defeating the Philadelphia Union 1-0 on a chilly Thursday night in the final at Robertson Stadium. Houston won the home-and-home series 3-1 on aggregate.

Surprise starters… again

Peter Nowak named a maverick lineup for the second straight game, but instead of playing coy, the Union manager turned his ship sideways and unveiled the cannons. Jack McInerney and Danny Mwanga led a strike force whose combined age was less than Faryd Mondragon’s alone. Sebastien Le Toux was wide on the left, allowing Veljko Paunovic and Michael Farfan to rotate through the center.

An energetic move handed Mwanga the first chance of the match. He confidently drove at Boswell but powered his 35-yarder over the bar. It was a warning shot across the bow by the Union, and led by Brian Carroll they pressed and pestered the Dynamo relentlessly for the first ten minutes.

Strong opening, crumbling Ching

In the 6th, the high press led to a midfield turnover. When Michael Farfan received the ball wide, he caught Jack McInerney’s eye and swung in a low, hard cross that Geoff Cameron had to nudge out. Houston gave the ball right back a moment later but their shape was clearly improving as the game wore on.

In the 11th minute, Gabriel Farfan came in hard on Brian Ching, earning a foul and a warning from Ricardo Salazar. This turned out to be a watershed moment in the match, as Ching would use the infraction as damning evidence that Salazar accepted into his courtroom without question.

In the 21st, Philly was on the front foot again. After a spell of Houston possession, Paunovic sent a first time ball drifting into the Dynamo box. Mwanga challenged and the bouncer fell between Le Toux and Boswell. The giant defender held off the Frenchman long enough for Tally Hall to arrive and smother the rock with his mits.

Houston find their footing

The Union were getting away from their early strategy of high pressure and quick counters. As Houston held more possession, Philadelphia’s strikers continued to play high and stretch the back line. The link between the front and midfield was broken and it allowed the Dynamo to assert themselves.

Not that Houston appeared to have any particular goals in mind. Moffat and Camargo played searching balls from the middle to Brian Ching, who checked deep then checked to see if anyone else could believe how hard done he was. The embellishments paid off when Salazar awarded Carlos Valdes a yellow card in the 30th minute. While the resulting free kick was cleared, it was soon Danny Cruz’s turn to philosophize with the turf. A 32nd minute foul from Gabe Farfan offered the Dynamo a free kick from the same spot as Alain Hainault’s goal in the first leg.

The Union were handling their box well, though, and Brad Davis was soon left to dive embarrassingly after being blocked off by Carlos Valdes and Sheanon Williams.

In the 36th, a Le Toux corner fell to Brian Carroll  at the far side of the Houston eighteen yard box. Carroll’s low, driven cross was picked off by a bold Tally Hall.

Davis threatens

Brad Davis responded minutes later with a fine right footed drive from the corner of the box. The fact that he ran through the back of Sheanon Williams to find space was lost on Salazar, who remained the very model of inconsistency.

Closed down after a fiery start, Danny Mwanga was released down the left by Le Toux in the 42nd. A stepover granted the young striker space but his shot was outside of the near post.

Houston strikes

The half looked set to end at zeroes when a 48th minute Brad Davis free kick was nodded in by a wide open Brian Ching. It was a fine long ball by Davis and a well-placed finish by Ching.

Second half

The link between midfield and strikers remained absent as the second half began. Paunovic was serving balls deep when his ideal role would have been just behind the strikers to pick up scraps the Dynamo defense cleared out. Nevertheless, Jack McInerney nearly got on the end of just such a long ball in the 49th after Brad Davis mishit a clearance.

Gabriel Farfan picked up a yellow card in the 51st, meaning he would miss the semifinal if the Union would have completed an epic comeback. Juan Diego Gonzalez was seen not warming up.

The Dragon comes up huge

There was real drama moments later when Danny Califf misjudged a Tally Hall kick. Calen Carr broke in on Mondragon alone but the goalie stuck out a leg  and stabbed the shot wide of his net.

Veljko Paunovic responded with a hard, curling effort in the 59th that Tally Hall miraculously smothered without a rebound. Although the Dynamo keeper was rarely tested, he was more than up to every task set before him.

Triple sub

In the 66th, Peter Nowak sent on nearly 17 feet of substitutes, adding Justin Mapp, Freddy Adu and Roger Torres in one swoop. Garfan, Mwanga and Paunovic made way.

Calen Carr picked up a yellow card in the 68th for a poor challenge on McInerney. The resulting free kick led to a corner which led to nothing.

In the 75th minute, Calen Carr dove.

Freddy Adu mustered the final effort of the match, placing a sidefooted effort around the outside of Tally Hall’s far post in the 87th. It was the best chance the Union could muster from 20 minutes of shapeless pressure and running.

Final whistle

The Union’s season ended where it began. They came into Robertson Stadium in March young and unproven.

Nine months later, they are still young.


  1. Still digesting will have more to say soon…

  2. You know what? The #1 thing I want to see next year is Nowak pic a formation, pic a starting XI and STICK WITH IT.

    PLEASE. I want to feel like I watch a normal team. I don’t even feel like critiquing this game – it’s not worth it. All I am going to wish for these 6 months is that Nowak changes his ways and does things the normal way.

    • I know we have reputation here in Philly for picking on the coach when things go wrong but seriously who goes into the playoffs without a settled starting 11, who changes a defense that is second best in the league and who takes the guy most likely to score and sticks him out wide in midfield while leaving our most creative midfield player sat on the bench for most of the game? I am sorry but that was awful Mr Nowak and left a nasty taste to an otherwise great season.

  3. Congrats on a great second season boys. Lot to look forward to. I just want to end it with one message: Free Keon!

  4. I know it feels better to look on the bright side but this loss was avoidable. Don’t use odd formations that leave great players like Carroll useless. Don’t play for a draw at home. And don’t put 2 teenagers up top in the final match!


  5. The second match lineup was as foolish as the first. At no point was Houston’s dominant midfield addressed. More strikers doesnt equal more goals. Good soccer does. So many coaching blunders.
    Love this group of players though. Feel bad for all of them right now. They didn’t deserve to go out like this.

  6. I was in Houston in March and enjoyed that match so much more than last night’s. Glad I did not travel down yesterday… Anyway here is what I wrote on Facebook under the Nowak remarks that the Union was overall the better team over the 2 games: “Nutwack is unable to get the best of our players and is wrong saying we were the better team. Houston’s Ching with his headers and Davis with his free kicks are so much better than anyone we have (from a offensive threat point of view). We were very poor keeping the ball and making things happen, and all our players are too slow. We should have at least 1 player who is fast like lightning. We had 1 good cross Letoux should have finished. Had couple of corners where the ball ended up bouncing around in the 6 and someone with heart should have finished it off. Last 2 minutes was just spent kicking the ball upfield with Huoston heading these clear. No more nice runs down the wing.. Very disappointing finish of the season.

  7. Nowak boned it again.

  8. Nowak setup the team to lose last night. Over the last 2 months, Le Toux was hot playing as a forward. Now you switch him to midfield? And why start the game with your two dynamic midfielders, Torrez and Adu both on the bench and then bring both in at the same time. Have one play the first 60 and then the other the last 30. Any chance we can let Nowak just keep his GM job and get someone new on the sidelines for the game?

    • Like who, Nowak Lite, Hackworth?

    • Nowak is polish and that is the style they play, drown the talent to maybe get a freaky goal.
      He wasted Adu in DC and now his is doing again and with Torres as well.

      Show him the door, bring in any former American national teamer, Ernie Stewart will be fantastic if we can get him, maybe Steve Ralston.Look what RSL is doing.

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