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Match report: Houston Dynamo 3-1 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Despite having two weeks to prepare for Saturday night’s showdown at BBVA Stadium in Houston, the Union were outplayed throughout, slumping to a 3–1 defeat. With the win, the Dynamo, who returned to their traditional 4–4–2 formation for the must-win contest, clinched a place in the 2012 MLS playoffs.

Well aware that a victory was the only acceptable outcome, Houston came out quickly and the Union had no answer. Within 5 minutes, Macoumba Kandji had the ball in the back of the Union net following a gaffe from Carlos Valdes. Continuing to press as they looked to put the game out of sight, the Union hit back against the run of play. Jack McInerney positioned himself between two defenders in the 19th minute and nodded Sheanon Williams’ cross back across the face of goal, stunning the home crowd.

It would be the Union’s only shot on goal, as the Dynamo bossed the second half of the match. For Houston, Brad Davis came close twice, with a desperate sliding challenge and a post the only things keeping the Dynamo at bay. Finally, in the 71st minute, Oscar Boniek Garcia grabbed the match-winner on the counterattack before Valdes’ calamitous evening finished with a penalty conceded to Houston striker Will Bruin.

First half

With Keon Daniel unavailable, John Hackworth welcomed back the recovered pair of Danny Cruz and Freddy Adu into the starting lineup. Featuring alongside Michael Farfan, the trio supported Jack McInerney, who again ran alone up top for the Union.

Whatever preparation had been done during the international break failed to take into account a desperate Houston side, with the Union looking unprepared for the pressure they would face from the opening whistle. Even before Kandji’s 5th minute goal, the hosts should have been in front when Brad Davis eluded the attention of Brian Carroll, shooting over Zac MacMath’s goal.

Moments later however, Kandji got a touch ahead of Valdes, whose wild swipe at the ball only served to connect with the underside of Kandji’s boot. Racing into the box with Okugo for company, Kandji’s last touch pushed the ball wide enough to create space for the big striker to bury his finish beyond MacMath.

The Union were struggling at the back when Ricardo Clark got around the visibly hobbled Williams before Okugo’s two touch clearance was nearly pounded into the net, again by Kandji.

Boniek Garcia, deployed in midfield on the night, was back at it in the 13th minute. Picking out Davis with a clever switch of fields, the Honduran international continued his run into the box, only to steer his header wide from the resulting cross.

The Union were unable to keep possession in the midfield, with the central group of Adu, Carroll and Michael Lahoud all guilty of slow play, resulting in a rash of momentum killing turnovers.

Yet out of nowhere, the Union fashioned an equalizer in the 19th minute.

When Carroll’s long, switching ball fell to Williams, the defender’s pace earned him a cushion from Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie. Hooking the ball into the box, Williams’ found McInerney, who had carved out space between Jermaine Taylor and Corey Ashe. Heading back across the face of goal, Tally Hall remained rooted to the spot, helpless to keep out Jack Mac’s club record fourth goal in as many matches.

Buoyed by the goal, the Union looked to build on the momentum but found Houston’s physicality too much to handle. Heavy challenges from Bobby Boswell and Taylor went unpunished and the Union were rebuffed in the final third through brute force.

In the 31st minute, Farfan nearly sprung Cruz, but the backtracking Ashe intercepted the pass at the final moment. Not one to give up on the play, Cruz chased after Ashe’s backpass.  Nevertheless, while he was able to charge down Hall’s clearance, the result was a Houston goal kick.

As the match crept towards halftime, Kandji had a golden opportunity to put Houston back in the lead. When Adam Moffat played Davis to the endline, the Union defense looked to have the situation under control. But when MacMath flapped badly at Davis’ cutback cross, Kandji, again slipping free of Carroll, had little to do other than tap the ball home. Waiting for the bounce, he mishit his finish, shockingly banging the ball over the crossbar.

Second half

Houston came out of the tunnel intent on earning all three points and would have had the lead in minutes were it not for a confident double save from MacMath. Quick passing from Bruin and Clark teed up Boniek racing in on the right flank and, after MacMath got low to block away his shot, the Union keeper recovered quickly to catch Kandji’s follow up effort.

With Freddy Adu anonymous, Michael Farfan looked to spur the Union into action, hunting for work in center of the park. After trying to put Cruz through on the right wing, Farfan came within inches of releasing McInerney on a breakaway, only to see Hall slide out, narrowly winning the race to the ball.

The Union’s attacking forays were few and far in between and Davis nearly put his side back into the lead in the 60th minute. Racing into the box, he looked to have the far post picked out only to see a sliding challenge from Okugo keep the scores level.

Still, Davis was intent on spurring his team to victory and nearly had his side in front in the 66th minute. Running right at the Union defense, he powered straight through the tackle of Valdes. With Lahoud on his shoulder, his far post blast cannoned back off the woodwork and the Union clung to the level scoreline.

But it would not last long.

With numbers stranded upfield in the 71st minute on a free kick, Hall started a quick counterattack. Swiftly moving the ball into the final third, Brian Ching fed Boniek Garcia, who cut in from the left to unleash a powerful near post drive. MacMath got a hand to the shot, but could not keep it out of the back of the net.

It was a just reward for a dominant performance and Houston had to wait only minutes before they would earn some insurance.

Beaten badly for the third time on the night, Valdes lost a foot race to Will Bruin in the 74th minutes. Sliding in to pressure the shot, he could only look on in disbelief when referee Mark Geiger whistled for a penalty kick, judging the Union captain to have hacked down Bruin in the process of shooting.

Coolly sending MacMath the wrong way, Davis slotted home Houston’s third goal on the night, insuring their playoff future for 2012.

With a midweek fixture against the Eastern Conference leading Sporting Kansas City, the Union will have little time to dwell on this lethargic performance before they play their second of three spoiler matches in the final week of the season.

Philadelphia Union
Zac MacMath; Raymon Gaddis, Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams (Antoine Hoppenot ’64); Danny Cruz (Roger Torres ’78), Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud, Freddy Adu (Gabriel Gomez ’58), Michael Farfan; Jack McInerney
Unused substitutes: Chris Konopka, Chandler Hoffman, Greg Jordan, Christhian Hernandez

TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Gabriel Gomez 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 1 (Jack McInerney 1); FOULS: 16 (Michael Farfan 5); OFFSIDES: 6 (Jack McInerney 5); CORNER KICKS: 3 (Roger Torres 2); SAVES: 4 (Zac MacMath 4)

Houston Dynamo
Tally Hall; Kofi Sarkodie, Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor, Corey Ashe; Ricardo Clark, Adam Moffat (Giles Barnes ’56), Brad Davis (Warren Creavalle ’85), Oscar Boniek Garcia; Will Bruin, Macoumba Kandji (Brian Ching ’66)
Unused substitutes: Tyler Deric, Andre Hainault, Cam Weaver, Calen Carr

TOTAL SHOTS: 18 (Brad Davis 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Macoumba Kandji 2, Brad Davis 2, Boniek Garcia 2); FOULS: 13 (Boniek Garcia 5); OFFSIDES: 2 (Kofi Sarkodie 1, Macoumba Kandji 1); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Brad Davis 2); SAVES: 0

Scoring Summary
5 – HOU: Kandji (Moffat)
19 – PHI: McInerney (Williams)
71 – HOU: Boniek (Ching)
75 – HOU: Davis (penalty)

Discipline Summary
67 – PHI: McInerney (caution)

Mark Geiger



  1. DarthLos117 says:

    They are fast, we are slow. They are strong, we are weak. They are tall, we are short. They have a midfield, we have Awho. At least Jack and Williams provided a beauty n hope.

  2. I would officially label the “Freddy ADu” problem the #1 issue this off season. It’s not that he can’t possibly play well for us, or become a good player for us. The problem is we already have Marfan making much more visible strides and is much more effective then Adu.
    And Torres, who is still young and seems to be the #1 offensive option on the bench.
    Do that leave enough room for Adu? I don’t think so.

  3. Terrible. I watch great soccer in the morning and then turn on to MLS in the evening.
    Its sad really. Even the ball, in EPL, seems to move faster, crisper, with a purpose. Not in MLS. Slow and pointless. MLS as an organization and as individual club institutions needs to take player development more seriously and invest a lot more money into soccer academies. Otherwise, US soccer will never amount to anything.

    As for the Union, I read an article on the team web site that they were practicing possession and pass accuracy. Really? Doesn’t show.
    Until they spend the money to put some talent on the pitch no amount of training will make a difference. Valdez was terrible. Its a bit early for him to be thinking about bigger and better teams?!
    The whole team was slow. Standing around ball watching. Terrible. For some reason they still show a lack of chemistry. After playing the whole season together there is still apparently a lack of understanding between players.
    Hackworth has NOT shown that he deserves the job. I know that they will keep him, but I don’t think they should. No improvement in the team during his tenure, except a short honeymoon period after Nowak was fired. /
    At the very least the team needs a striker and a play maker. If they can get an experienced goal keeper and additional depth at the back great, a bonus. But two quality attacking players is an absolute must. Otherwise, bad coaching and lack of talent will make the 2013 season pretty much a repeat of the 2012.
    Its a really same because the fans who pack the stadium and buy the goods deserve better. The franchise showed so much promise and it looks like they blew it already.

    • I think your 2nd and 3rd points highlight a philosophical problem the MLS as a whole is dealing with. On one hand we DO need more of a focus on young talent, improving facilities and instilling a better style of soccer from the bottom up.
      On the other hand, how much are we actually trying to do that when we/the league wants to throw millions upon millions at aged (usually) former stars for the quick marketing boost? These DPs have as much chance of ending up like DC (two DPs on the bench) then say, Boeinek on Houston or those two in Columbus.
      It’s a hard line to tip toe, and the problem usually begins any time “spending money” becomes synonymous with making your team better. It usually isn’t.
      How about instead of looking to spend money to get better, we look to scout, develop and bring in talent that meshes with the team on and off the pitch.
      If that player demands a big payday, then so be it. But you should never start out improving your team going “I’m going to spend money!” Look at Vancouver and Portland – Jack has as much or more goals than their two multimillion dollar striker DPs.

      • Quality demands compensation. I’m certainly not talking about aging stars. But this team has to spend cash to get talented, skilled, and proven players.
        Perhaps the three DP rule is a good one for the purpose of getting real quality on to the pitch AND encouraging the teams to also spend money on developing home grown talent instead of staffing the entire team with foreign quality.
        The rule is good to promote parity and encourage domestic improvements, for now. In the future, I hope it will not be necessary.
        That’s the thing though, the future. How long are we to wait for improved MLS quality? Another 16 years or more?

      • PS. As to your last point, Jack is NOT quality. Perhaps in two or three years. Perhaps.

      • 4 goals in 4 games, and goals in about half his games (8/18) since Hackworth was hired. 3rd in the league (min. 15 shots) in scoring percentage. Not a finished product, but that sounds like quality to me.

      • Really? Ok. He is a Messi in the making. He does a good job. But I don’t think he is the answer up top for the Union. Maybe in a couple of years.

      • I think that is the talking point MLS uses to boost the idea of DPs, but let’s look at reality.
        1) The majority of DPs ARE aging stars.
        2) “Real quality on the pitch”? Do you think DC believes that? Or the numerous teams that are underwhelmed with their 5mil investment?
        3) DPs improve parity? Like how two teams have the top 5 highest paid DPs, and 6 of the top 7?
        And again, why isn’t JAck “quality”? Because he isn’t living off his past achievements? Because he isn’t making 5mil a year? As mentioned, he has more goals than two big time striker DPs.
        I 100% agree with your ideas, that the MLS needs to improve, that we need to bring in quality players, stuff like that. I just don’t see what you see in regards to DPs.

      • First, DP players do not create parity. Restraining teams to three DP players does maintain parity. One or two “quality” players can greatly help a team but they do not make or break it.
        A DP does not have to be an aging star. Its up to each team to determine who they pay the money to. Seattle is an example. I personally think that if you’re going to shell out that much cash get a good investment. However, due to the low quality and reputation of the league few great players in their prime want to play in MLS. Why should they when they can play in Europe?!
        Finally, it a sad statement about the league when aging stars like Beckham and Henry still can compete and contribute greatly to their team well past their prime. Why, because of the generally low quality and slow speed of MLS play.

      • Henry competed and contributed with Arsenal earlier this year when on loan there. Same thing with Beckham and his loan spells at AC Milan. So, using your twisted logic, that would mean that those two clubs that are perennially in Champions League each year are “low quality”.

        If you don’t want to be a supporter of MLS, then don’t. The league doesn’t need Eurosnobs who use nebulous terms like “quality” to describe players.

      • Not a euro snub at all. Just a very frustrated soccer fan. As to your point, there is a reason they left Europe and its not because they like hot dogs and freedom fries. Like any fan and consumer I want quality. MLS is not showing that quality. The leagues progress is a bit too slow. Not expecting them to compete with EPL but I don’t think they can compete with the Championship. That should not be the case st this point.

      • Last I checked Becks went to Milan and Henry went to asr. And both made a difference, so don’t say they only make it here because this league stinks. And don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to put MLS up there with BPL

      • MLS is their retirement plan. If you guys think that its not you are way off. They left because they could not continue to be starters in Europe and get paid as much they did before. Again if you think anything else you are wrong. That’s just a simple fact.

      • It is not you can conjure young players and the infrastructure to help produce them out of your ass. It takes time. The MLS is making strides in that department with generation addidas, homegrown players, academies ect ect ect. But in a country like the US that is Finally getting clued in about soccer it is going to take time. This is a long term plan.

        In the short term the DP system is a way to get top flight talent, be it old or young and still maintain a semblance of parity. (i still hate the fact that teams can stockpile them)

        You are going to have to accept that the MLS is not yet and may never be a top flight league. Doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be entertaining league to watch so enjoy what we got cause if this league goes under i can’t imagine another coming in a while.

      • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

        I just like to give the MLS some tough love – in terms of these provisions that supposed to help produce youth – how flawed are they? We see on this team (so it probably happens other places) is since GA has a max minutes tag – those players will find themselves on the bench.
        And HG is a nice concept (as nebulous and abstract the concept of what makes a play homegrown is) – but how exactly are they developing with no youth league, and a joke of a reserves league? Throw in the MLS’ archaic attitude towards loans and these kids are languishing more than developing.
        I actually agree with your last statement, I am one of the hardest people on the MLS I know. I know they are in a touch spot but I don’t agree with a lot of things they do, and propose.

  4. Here a question Freddy is making over 600,000 yes or no? Either way for the price of Freddy you could get anywhere from 2-6-12 other players who would cost less then what Freddy is making. Hell I think we have like 6 players now making less than 60,000. Trade Freddy pay the players you have a better check and move players up. It’s a team sport and the players need to work as a team and we have players now that show heart and spirit with some fight. You know I’m not talking about Gomez, he may scores but he also plays like he doesn’t care where the hustle. It’s like watching McNab back Philly losing and smiles. Freddy might be like EJ but he had a couple season now and other than a few games has not played up to what he is paid.

    • I agree about Freddy. He is a bust. He is also technically a DP. Either dump him or renegotiate his salary. Either way they can spend that money on getting more talent or bumping up salaries for good players we want to keep.


    yeah it’s almost as if this league has been around for under 20 years and isnt commanding as much talent or intrigue as leagues that have been around for 50+ years duuuhjhhggrrgh

    at least west ham won

  6. Trying to keep it posi.

    I am really starting to buy into Jack Mac’s future for this club in a couple of years this kid could be a beast. He should keep his gesticulation towards his teammates on the field to a minimum though. Let Valdes and BC handle calling out team mates, just do your job for now and it will be fine.

    Torres has played himself back onto the Union in my opinion he has been the most positive sub I have seen in the last few games.

  7. This match was so difficult to watch, especially the start. The Union passing was so poor and Houston seemed to win 95% of the 50-50 balls.

    Everyone has ideas about players they’d like to see on the team next year. After watching Sheanon play in this match quite obviously less than fully fit, the one thing I’d like to see the team have is a capable back-up at EVERY position. Is that too much to ask?

    • I think Gaddis is the back up for every position.

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      Worst then that, is with Williams being obviously hobbled, why the hell was he even playing!?!?!
      Hackworths lineups these last few games are far from encouraging. Besides that bad oversight, why are we still trotting out Lahoud? If there’s ever a time to give our HG kids a run out, it’s now. If there’s every a chance to go fuck it, and throw out a lineup of maybe Carrol – Marfan – Torres in the middle – JUST to see how it works out – it’s now.

  8. That match was a real nut kick. I woke up in the morning and my groin still hurt. It looked like houston had an extra player or two on the pitch, in the midfield, getting every ball. Bigger and stronger, from the front to the back.
    I know there is a lot of love for Danny Cruz on this board, but I’m just not seeing it. Hustle and heart just cannot make up for the void in skill level. He seems like a real quality dude, but multiple potential runs died after heading to him.
    So, to look at the positives — (1) Roger Torres actually looked like someone who belonged on the pitch this time. Hopefully, this is something to build upon for him. Maybe he is starting to get his legs back. (2) I like Gaddis in the starting line-up. IMO, he has been a bright spot this year.
    I don’t get to any of the reserve games, but are we realisitically going to see anything from the really young guys – Hernandez, Pfefer, MacLaughlin — in the next few years? That might be a good future PSP article.

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