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Preview: Union at Dynamo

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

What: Union

When: 7:30pm EST

Where: BBVA Compass Stadium

Watch: NBCSN

Referee: Mark Geiger. SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Adam Garner; 4th: Ismail Elfath

With three wins in their last four matches and a streaking striker, the Philadelphia Union finally seem like a team built to survive MLS. It’s too late to save this season, but with three playoff teams on the docket to close out the year, the Union as a team—and as individuals—can lay down a marker for 2013.

As a team, the Union will measure themselves against the most physical, the most athletic, and the most expensive offenses in the East. The Dynamo have gone 3–3–4 since shutting out the Red Bulls to start August. While their home form has remained strong, Houston has only picked up one point on the road during that stretch. This makes Saturday’s match against the Union an unequivocal must-win.

The Dynamo are coming off a crushing tie with Montreal. Brian Ching chipped Troy Perkins in the 93rd minute, but after conferring with his linesman, Chris Penso ruled Ching offside and the points were split.

The set up

Houston and Philadelphia will come out in similar 4–3–3 formations. The Dynamo will push Oscar Boniek Garcia up to join the attack while the Union are likely to retain their more conservative shape with Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud playing safety behind either Gabriel Gomez, Freddy Adu or Michael Farfan.

Whether the Union’s wingers can match the play of their Houston counterparts will be one of the deciding factors in the game. When Macoumba Kandji, Calen Carr and Boniek are threatening, the Dynamo can dominate a match without pushing Ricardo Clark or Adam Moffat too high up the pitch. The aims of the Houston wide men is more traditional than those of the Union’s. With Will Bruin or Brian Ching running in the middle, the Dynamo want to push the ball upfield, get runners in the box, and start serving faster than a Waffle House during a snowstorm.

In contrast, Philadelphia’s wingers should be looking to cut inside and either fill the space left by Jack McInerney’s runs or get in behind Houston’s aggressive fullbacks. Kofi Sarkodie, who earned a starting nod against New England, partners with Corey Ashe to form the only duo as fast and athletic as Philly’s SheaRay. The proper way to counter that type of player is to look behind him early after turnovers. And if McInerney is making that run into space behind a wing back, somebody else has to motor forward to fill the box.

Holding it together

Retaining midfield protection for the back line is an important part of Houston’s success. While boasting an admirable defensive record, the Dynamo haven’t won a match in which they gave up a goal since July 18. True, they can point to a string of shutout wins during that time, but that should show the Union that any breakthrough can be a game changer.

It also means the Union have to make a strategic decision in how they deploy Brian Carroll and likely partner Michael Lahoud. If the two play their traditional Tampa Two deep roles, Houston’s central pair will sit deep and take advantage of the space in front of them to spray the ball around and work the Philly defense sideline to sideline. Essentially, the Union will cede the center of the pitch and hope that offering cover on the outsides will limit the amount of quality service Bruin and Ching receive.

No major mistakes

Philadelphia’s win over New England was deceptive. The Revolution are clearly disciples of the Lio Pajoy School of Finishing, and the Union have given up more goals on surprising goalkeeping errors than they’ve scored this season.

Putting together a string of wins to close out the season requires 270 minutes of mistake-free soccer from Zac MacMath, Amobi Okugo and Carlos Valdes. Let’s qualify that: Mistakes that end up too far downfield are fine. Those are what Captain Steven Hiller from Independence Day might call, “Oops” mistakes. No, it’s the kind of mistake like opening up the middle then having everybody step to the ball carrier at once, letting Jerry Bengston in alone that can’t happen. It’s the playing too close to Jair Arrieta that can’t happen, and it’s the loose set piece marking that can’t happen.

Whether it’s Will Bruin and Brian Ching, Kai Kamara and CJ Sapong, or Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper, Valdes and Okugo have to step up to the strikers on set pieces and MacMath has to organize the rest of the defense to get the appropriate matchups.

Individual markers

Finally, the Union’s many fringe players need to make their case for a roster spot in 2013. There is no doubt changes will come in the offseason, possibly as many as in 2012 (though many who arrived in 2012 may mosey on out again). Krystian Witkowski recently told Dave Zeitlin, “I think it will be extremely tough to be back here next season.” And while it is Witkowski’s concussion issues that have made his return less likely, others have no such excuse.

With three games left in the season, time is running out for players like Josue Martinez, Keon Daniel, Gabriel Gomez and Roger Torres to secure their futures in Philadelphia. Freddy Adu’s bloated contract may offer him more protection than most, but it remains unclear whether the mercurial talent will ever get the keys to the offense he believes he deserves.

The Union also have to consider what the middle of the park will look like next season. If Okugo is ready to step in, Brian Carroll, fine servant that he has been, may be some of the best trade bait on the market. Michael Lahoud has fit in well since arriving from Chivas, but to be a long-term answer he will have to improve on this year’s Nigel Reo-Coker impression.

Starting lineups

Union

  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, Garfan
  • MID: Carroll, Lahoud, Adu
  • FWD: Daniel, McInerney, Marfan

Dynamo

  • GK: Hall
  • DEF: Sarkodie, Boswell, Taylor, Ashe
  • MID: Clark, Moffat, Davis
  • FWD: Kandji, Bruin, Boniek

Injuries (as of Oct. 16)

Union

  • OUT: DF Bakary Soumare (R knee menisectomy recovery)
  • DOUBTFUL: DF Sheanon Williams (L ankle peroneal/Achilles strain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: DF Gabriel Farfan (R ankle contusion); MF Danny Cruz (L big toe sesamoid stress fracture); FW Zach Pfeffer (L knee contusion);
  • PROBABLE: MF Freddy Adu (L quad strain)

Dynamo

  • QUESTIONABLE: MF Brad Davis (L calf strain)

Suspended

Union

  •  None

Dynamo

  •  None

Suspended next yellow

Union

  • M. Lahoud, G. Farfan, G. Gomez

Dynamo

  • B. Boswell

 

6 Comments

  1. MacMath
    Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, Farfan
    Cruz, Carroll, Adu, Daniel
    Marfan, Macinerney

  2. Philly Cheese says:

    MacMath
    Gaddis, Okugo, Valdes, Garfan
    Marfan, Carroll, Torres
    Cruz, Jack Mac, Hoffman

    If Cruz toe is healed, having three true forwards on pitch at same time is something I would like to see. Marfan feeding Cruz on right, and Torres feeding Hoffman on left might provide finishing opportunities. Torres served Hoffman well in Reserve game when Hoffman scored three plus PK.

  3. DarthLos117 says:

    We’d be lucky leaving Houston with any points. Houston 2-0. Adam’s lineup gives us the best chance at a point. Torres and Cruz cant run with Houston’s midfield.

  4. Richie The Limey says:

    Michael Lahoud should never, ever be on a starting XI for the U. Ever. We put up with some dross in MLS but he makes me pine for the days of Migs and Nakazawa!

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