Match previews

Preview: Union at Houston Dynamo

Photo: Earl Gardner

What: Houston Dynamo vs. Philadelphia Union
Where: BBVA Compass Stadium
When: Saturday, July 6 2013 at 9 pm ET
Watch: CSN, Direct Kick, MLS Live
Referee: Matthew Foerster; Linesmen: Chris Strickland, Jonathan Johnson; Fourth official: Armando Villarreal

Rarely does a tie with Dallas or Real Salt Lake qualify as “dropping points.” But the Philadelphia Union have managed to achieve that rare feat in back-to-back games, and as they prepare to travel to the unfriendly confines of BBVA Park in Houston, they know they have turned six points into two.

Honestly, who gives up two 97th minute goals in a row? How many teams even play seven minutes of extra time two games in a row?

Nothing will change the ignominy or lost points that have marred the Union’s last two performances. They can take solace in the knowledge that they should be in first place, even as they get motivation from the sad fact that they rest in third, just below the Red Bulls team they so recently walloped.

Dynamo details

Further below the Union, floating just above the playoff line, the Houston Dynamo are searching for their own answers. As the only team above the cutoff with fewer than 20 goals, the Dynamo find themselves in a 2012 predicament. Last season, the addition of Oscar Boniek Garcia and subsequent switch to a 4-3-3 led to an eight game unbeaten streak.

The major difference between the 2012 and 2013 Dynamo is where their problems lie. Last year, they couldn’t keep goals out in the four games preceding the tactical shift. Now they are looking at a 329-minute goalless streak and the absence of top goalscorer and top assist man Will Bruin. Free kick specialist and frequent Union thorn Brad Davis and Corey Ashe are also Gold Cup bound, though goalie Tally Hall and the team’s Jamaican members are staying put.

Yes, the Dynamo are in a lull. They haven’t won a match at home since Kansas City broke their 36-match home unbeaten streak on May 12. The normally reliable service game that has made Dom Kinnear one of the most consistently successful MLS coaches is failing to produce results, and with Bruin and Davis gone, the most reliable offensive combo on the team is missing for the foreseeable future.

As if the personnel and goalscoring issues weren’t enough, the timing of this match makes a win absolutely essential for Houston. After this match, they face New England, Chicago, and Columbus—the three teams directly behind them in the playoff race—followed by Real Salt Lake, Seattle, and Montreal.

Union update

The Union, obviously, are playing well and making the least out of their strong performances. Against RSL, they once again dominated the wide areas but failed to hold onto a late lead. Salt Lake came out narrow and the Union made them pay early and late. Then set piece and late game defending reared their ugly heads once more, and Philly left Utah with a single point.

Tactically, Philadelphia’s approach against Real Salt Lake was good but could have been better. They found out the home team early but failed to go back to the well as often as they should have.

As the game wore on, the absence of any real defensive help on the bench became obvious. Where the Union needed numbers to hold the ball, they had only strikers. The sad truth is that even Michael Lahoud would have been a helpful addition the past two matches.

Against Houston, Philadelphia needs to change very little about their approach. Establishing width and a speedy counterattack will once again be top priorities, while dominating the aerial battle will be the most important strategy on defense. Houston is known for the ability to turn in crosses, but they are equally good at following up the play, keeping the ball in the final third and knocking in a rebound.

Key matchup: Conor Casey vs. Boswell/Taylor

Casey knows the Union are relying on him right now. His work rate and movement showed as much against Real Salt Lake. Houston, unfortunately, is also aware of the big striker’s importance to the Union. And the Dynamo have the bodies to bully around even a Conor Casey-sized man.

Providing Casey with adequate support is a task that falls on the shoulders of Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Cruz. The latter had one of his “Come on, man!” outings against RSL, while Le Toux was as mercurial as ever, finishing early and somehow missing out on a classic MLS shootout goal in extra time. Whether Michael Farfan will be back to provide additional support is up in the air, but if he isn’t, Roger Torres mini-yeti certainly will not see the field, so don’t ask.

Key matchup: Brian Carroll, Ray Gaddis, Sheanon Williams vs. defensive corners

Carroll was just the latest Union defender to get burned on a set piece, and it’s clear that the Union’s current strategies are not working. Teams have managed to isolate the Union’s shorter players on dangerous headers all too often. Building an effective matchup strategy needs to be a focus in this short week as the Union attempt to outplay another talented opponent and finally get their due rewards.

Prediction: Houston 2-1 Union

The Union will wish they had taken their chances against Dallas and Real Salt Lake when they meet a Dynamo team that is hungry to reestablish their home dominance. If Houston can find a way to score, they will use their size advantage to hold the Union back. Philadelphia will respond in this fashion: Antoine Hoppenot and, too late, Aaron Wheeler.



  1. Great preview. It brings up an interesting point, if we know exactly what hackworth is going to do, the other teams do to.

  2. Man is there ANYTHING about Hackworths tactical choices that arent terrible?
    “Hey, my team is short and has proven all season they are terrible at defending set pieces and balls into the box. So let’s get a lead while a man up and play bunker ball! That way our terrible defense will have plenty of chances to give up a goal! I’m John Hackworth and I approve this message!”
    And no, John, turning a 6’6 striker into a defender and throwing him into the fray isn’t going to turn your defense around, either.

  3. Love Adam’s comments. Mini-yeti’s rule!!!!!!!!!

  4. Great One says:

    Great preview.
    I know I shouldn’t be thinking this way and it is only punishing myself. But how you like to see us during this holdover period with a 4-2-3-1 Lineup.
    Williams, Soumare, Parke, Gaddis
    Okugo, Carroll,
    Le Toux, Torres, Cruz
    Anyway, let’s just hope we come away with a win today. Hackworth HAS to play different guys on short rest in a hot climate right? doesnt he? please?

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