Union match reports

Match Report: Philadelphia Union 0-0 Houston Dynamo

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Coming off of their extra time US Open Cup Final loss to Seattle, Philadelphia Union turned in a dominant display against Houston Dynamo, but couldn’t find the back of the net, settling for a 0-0 draw. Playing in their third match in a week, the Union could have been forgiven for lacking energy, but against a Dynamo team content to sit back, they were happy to play the aggressor.

Unfortunately, poor finishing, and the scrambling defense of David Horst and AJ Cochran, kept the Union at bay. In the end, the hosts forced only 3 saves from Tyler Deric, despite firing 17 shots.

“Our second 0-0 thriller here against Houston,”  interim manager Jim Curtin said after the game. “Not our best effort, we were a little rusty, I thought, a little sloppy, and a little off with the final pass. We still created a lot of chances, created enough to win.”

First Half

Playing in their third match in eight days, Jim Curtin kept faith with the majority of his lineup from Tuesday night’s extra time loss to Seattle, making only one substitute. Rais Mbolhi took over for Zac MacMath behind the unchanged Union outfield.

And the Union came out firing, taking only until the 4th minute to craft their first chance. After Conor Casey was dispossessed in the box, Cristian Maidana tracked down the loose ball, feeding it back to the big striker. But before Casey could slot home the chance, Cochran slid in to make the vital saving tackle.

Minutes later Casey got the inside track on DaMarcus Beasley after Vincent Nogueira picked Andrew Driver’s pocket, but again Casey could not get his shot on target, directing Maidana’s eventual cross wide of the near post.

With little possession of their own, Houston’s few chances came from long balls played up to Giles Barnes and Omar Cummings, but the duo struggled to maintain composure and remain onside. In the 17th minute, Driver skipped past Ray Gaddis and sent a teasing ball in behind the defense, but the Union defense stepped well, forcing the Dynamo attackers offside.

Casey continued to give Houston trouble in the 23rd minute. But after Sebastien Le Toux got behind the defense and cut the ball back for him, he was unable to get his shot past the sliding body of Horst.

After surviving a half an hour of Union onslaught, the Dynamo slowly began to claw their way back into the game, but in the 36th minute, a counter attack from the home side had them scrambling. Again, Le Toux found space up the right flank behind Beasley, but after Maidana cleverly dummied the ball on to Casey, the eventual shot was tamely struck into Deric’s grateful arms.

Alarm bells were ringing in front of the Union goal for the first time after 38 minutes when Driver again strode past Gaddis. Carlos Valdes had to react quickly when the cutback found Cummings’ feet. He did, blocking away the opportunity.

On the stroke of halftime, Horst nearly gifted the Union the opener when he was unable to comfortably deal with a dangerous cross from Nogueira. Knocking the ball down in his box straight to Le Toux, the Union winger couldn’t keep his volleyed chance down and it flew over the bar.

Second Half

Eager to avoid a second-half letdown similar to the one they suffered on Tuesday, the Union raced out of the gate in the second half. After a quiet first half, Andrew Wenger flew past Ricardo Clark, cutting back onto his right foot and firing on Deric. Arriving to get a deflection, Casey was in perfect position to poke home the rebound, but somehow only managed to push his second effort off the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand.

Chaotic defense nearly cost Houston when Sheanon Williams headed a Nogueira cross back across the face of goal, but after Horst allowed the header to bounce inside his 6 yard box, Wenger could only drive his shot straight into a defender.

Curtin was forced into his first sub of the match when, after at 49 minutes, Ethan White went down clutching his hamstring. Amobi Okugo entered the match in the center of midfield, with captain Maurice Edu dropping into the backline to replace White.

The Union nearly found their opener in the 57th minute through Wenger, but after picking off Sarkodie’s pass and cutting past Horst, the Union winger took too many touches, allowing Luis Garrido to close him down.

Gaddis and Maidana combined to send Wenger in behind on 60 minutes, but Casey could not finish his low cutback cross, with Cochran again sliding in smartly.

Le Toux was the next to have a look on Deric’s goal. Spying his run, Edu lofted a long ball over the Houston defense, sending Le Toux in on goal only to see the winger hit his shot wide of the target.

In the 76th minute, Cummings found a pocket of space in the Union box, but Edu closed quickly, deflecting the shot behind for a corner that the Union handled.

Gaddis nearly sent Houston off to the races when he misjudged his header as the last man in the 80th minute, but Cummings continued to show poor discipline in running well offsides when Barnes attempted to play him through.

Union players were screaming for a penalty in the 85th minute when Cochran slid in to challenge Nogueira in his own box. It was a tight call, but Curtin was convinced, saying after the match, “It’s a penalty, for sure.”

After being denied their appeals, substitute Pedro Ribeiro was also nearly felled in the area, but managed to stay on his feet, only to rattle his shot off the outside of the crossbar.

With only two points from two home games against New York and Houston, the Union face a daunting trip to DC United in a weeks time, knowing they need a win to get their playoff race back on track.

We haven’t dug a hole but now, by not picking up three points tonight, you certainly have to be a little more aggressive,” Curtin said. “We’ll probably have to steal a point or two on the road now, if you just look at the point totals and who has how many games left, and who plays home and who plays away. Would’ve been nice, we could have been controlling our own destiny but now we might need help in some regards.”

Philadelphia Union
Rais Mbolhi, Ray Gaddis, Carlos Valdes, Ethan White (Amobi Okugo, 52), Sheanon Williams, Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux (Fred, 85), Conor Casey (Pedro Ribeiro, 61)
Unused Substitutions: Zac MAcMathFabinho, Brian Carroll, Danny Cruz

Houston Dynamo
Tyler Deric, ­Kofi Sarkodie, David Horst, AJ Cochran, DaMarcus Beasley; Andrew Driver (Brian Ownby, 82), Luis Garrido (Alexander Lopez, 74), Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis; Giles Barnes, Omar Cummings (Jason Johnson, 88)
Unused substitutes: Eric Brunner, Servando Carrasco, Michael Lisch, Anthony Arena

Scoring Summary

Discipline Summary
75 – HOU: Sarkodie (caution)

Referee: Geoff Gamble

Philadelphia Union Houston Dynamo
17 Attempts on Goal 11
3 Shots on Target 0
7 Shots off Target 6
7 Blocked Shots 5
10 Corner Kicks 4
34 Crosses 13
3 Offsides 7
11 Fouls 11
0 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
407 Total Passes 430
77% Passing Accuracy 79%
49.6% Possession 50.4%
41 Duels Won 42
49.4% Duels Won % 50.6%
12 Tackles Won 10
0 Saves 3
13 Clearances 32


  1. Needed the 3 here very badly
    Losing pace with the other teams and now you have Toronto lurking right behind playing Chivas USA with a game in hand
    Bad time to have to play @DC

    Need to finish

  2. If the Union don’t make the playoffs, the Open Cup run has to take a large part of the blame. In addition to not putting out a full strength lineup against New York, the team did not look 100% today (despite outplaying Houston). There were too many times they were just a step slow. Plus wearing Seattle down didn’t help with Seattle playing NY tonight. They need to find a way to get a result on the road next week.

    • The open cup run was the right choice. The Seattle game proved that the Union can’t really go head to head with the best in the MLS. So better to go for it in a one game playoff where anything can happen with a 50/50 chance of making the playoffs anyway. Than just throwing all of their eggs in the playoff basking at when you know at best you are making it into the second round.

      • I actually thought the game against Seattle proved that our starting XI can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league. If Nog’s shot doesn’t hit the post or Ribeiro doesn’t shoot at the keeper instead of the rest of the entire open net, the Union win in regulation with no OT. I truly felt that the Union gave as good as they got in the first 90 minutes. The only major difference I saw between Philly and Seattle is how much deeper Seattle’s bench is. They could bring in Martins late and Kenny Cooper never even saw the field. Our first offensive man on going forward will probably either be Ribeiro or Cruz… Not much of a comparison.

      • Soccer is a game of ifs.
        Lets face it Seattle didn’t start their best 11 (and yea it can be said that we didn’t start our best 11 too) We have a good team by the standards of the MLS East at least but in the end we still fall in that scrappy middle of the pack that the most of the league is. That is elite not even by MLS standards.

    • Interesting how watching the ramifications of the deep Open Cup run brings to light the toll additional games may take on a team. We see it with Premier League sides or Continental European teams all the time and some of those teams are making multiple Cup runs, League Cup runs, CL or Europa League runs- which by the way are against some of the best teams in the world.

      • Look no further than the Red Bulls against Seattle last night. NY played a skeleton crew against Montral for the CONCAF, saving their energy for yesterdays match. And they took advantage. Of course, for Seattle, it was no where’s near a must win.

  3. Not enough shots on goal. Sometimes you just have to let lose and hope for a deflection or rebound. It doesn’t have to be pretty it just has to go in.
    Columbus win now means we have to take all 6 from them, draws are not an option

    • James Lockerbie says:

      Absolutely correct Sir, take a shot and see what may happen. Sounds a lot like what we’re saying in the first half of this season.

      The best thing Curtin did was to have the balls to move Edu back to the backline and give okugo the midfield. Now the last two games Edu has been in the mid field and we have had two many play makers and no shot takers on the field.

      I hope the coaching staff noticed this and will make the correction. Okugo makes the connecting pass to the attack and we have been able to take advantage of the counter attack.

      – With Edu in the mid field he take more touches on the ball giving the opposing team a chance to recover

    • James Lockerbie says:

      Absolutely correct Sir, take a shot and see what may happen.

  4. Result tonight is why last week’s lineup v. NY was foolish. You play the match in front of you. W-L from these 2 matches is one more point than D-D (and a lucky draw v. NY at that).

    I fault Ribeiro for not finishing twice late this week. I do not fault him for being the only option, and one playing out of position.

    Curtin’s comment after the match that there is not a spot for Okugo makes me question him. More importantly it leads to questions about who will be here next year.

    • Old soccer coach says:

      After White went down and Edu moved into the back line prior union dominance faded. Okugo is not as good at creating offense and combining at high pace and high quality as are edu, Maidana and Nogueira. And because of Omar Cummings pace sending edu into the back line was not an option. The quality of play after Okugo entered demonstrates clearly that Curtin’s decisions about the midfield and the back line were and are correct. Okugo is good, but Nogueira and Edu are better.

      • Okugo also came out around the same time the union absolutely ran out of gas. So putting it on Okugo is not totally fair.

      • Okugo & Edu play the position differently. Okugo stays back & passes to distribute, Edu more likely to carry the ball forward. You can see this from matches where Okugo was paired with Carroll, even then he stayed back. If Curtin is asking player in that spot to go box to box than Edu will play since it is what he does. I prefer Okugo because Nog also likes to roam & you are vulnerable to a counter.

      • Joel, Under how many names do you post?! Seriously, the question is which style does JC think needs to be played. Ironically, our goal scoring was up with the more defensive style of Okugo & our best results came against TFC. Also the future implication is extend Mo. And if Amobi isn’t here, I hope we can sell his rights abroad because I don’t want to face him.

      • I’m definitely not Joel, sorry to disappoint you.

      • I knew it. There can be only one!

      • Just mine.

      • It was a compliment.

      • What I saw after-rewathcing the game: Okugo played about 40 minutes in midfield and did not cause one single turnover;connected all his passes, won all 50-50 balls and moved the ball with poise.

  5. Atomic spartan says:

    There were times in the second half when our approach was eerily reminiscent of Hactktics: too many fruitless deep crosses, too many passes when shots were called for, too many galling incompletions and interceptions.. We need somebody who can put the ball into the parts of the goal where keepers and woodwork do not lurk, but we apparently lack that talent, as well as the ability to shoot from 18+. Plenty of opportunites, but no closers. You aren’t the better team unless you score more than the other team does.

    • crusty old coach says:

      Thank you Atomic! I’ve been lamenting this all year. “The slow lurker” (and many times he’s no where near the goal due to lack of speed and quickness) gets 8 on the year just because he gets all the minutes and gets good services. We just don’t have a full-time world class striker.

  6. Disappointed. We needed this win. Gotta make up some points over the next few games. Can’t believe Seattle rolled over for NYRB….

  7. So Amobi Okugo is now a back up. Only now not likely to be a backup in light of White hurting himself? Yet likely to be a back up again once White is better, like after the team begins scoring and playing better with the best XI on the field. Hmm. I am frustrated.

    • btw. I am fine with the draw tonight- excepted outcome. The first game back is like eating a sausage egg and cheese the day after drinking all night. It sucks. I am unsurprised. This season comes down to the two games against Columbus- 4 points there and we are fine. Anything less spells trouble. I am more concerned with this messing with the chemistry the interm finds necessary. Fu&ki@g team was playing so good and now tinker tinker.

    • Joel, you know I only have one foot inside the Okugo bandwagon, but I have to agree with you that leaving Okugo out of the lineup is questionable at best. Even if Edu and Nogueira are before him in the CDM depth chart (which I only half agree with), there’s no way that White is above Okugo in the CB depth chart. Okugo isn’t our best player, but he’s sure as hell starting XI material.

      • What just a week ago looked so promising- rocking a bit with the captain throwing ballast overboard. Sadly I am sad to feel happy White is possibly forced from lineup. I don’t wish injury on anyone but I feel it is in team’s best interest. One way or another, none of it matters because we now see how the interm-manager intends on working with the situation with all healthy.

  8. I also think the flow diminished once AO moved up. Why not leave AO back and keep Edu up. I think Curtain is right. That’s the best midield combo.

    Also, Chaco’s play had dipped. He lacks a certain attack to his movements. He’s fun to watch. I just wish he had a little more of a killer instinct.

    On the plus side, this team is unrecognizable to the team that got off to such a shaky start.

    • Agreed. I am one of those ‘soccer’ for art’s sake and compared to how they played last year and up to the World Cup break, this team is so much more enjoyable to watch. Much better. Maddening but much better to watch.

  9. Some of you guys weren’t watching the game. Okugo is tremendous as a holding/defensive midfielder – wins the ball or gets the ball from the backline or from GK and immediately turns and makes an incisive pass forward to Nogs or Chaco. If you’re expecting him to dribble box-to-box you don’t understand his position or his game. Watch the last 20 minutes of the game: he did exactly what he’s supposed to do, and did it well.

    I agree we need a striker who can strike.

    I also think that calling out LeToux for an admittedly sub-par game is a little silly when Wenger did little or nothing. We need a real left winger in the offseason. Wenger can back up both wings. Cruz can go to Orlando.

    • I still think Wenger is tired, If any game called for
      Cruz to start this was it.

      No way Casey should have started either but it seemed like every other striker on the team is out of favor.

    • MacMath is going to Orlando.

    • it seemed from the stands that LeToux had way more of the ball than Wenger and consistently did little with it – especially when he came back into chaco’s space but could not (obviously) do what chaco does. Letoux does well being on the end of the play but not so much when he tries to make it. also, moving chaco out left at the end and putting fred in the hole seemed like a mistake. chaco then got even less of the ball.

    • Thanks Ben. That’s what I saw of Okugo.

      • Interesting times all of a sudden. From my vantage point it seems the whole future of this team has been re-vectored.

  10. Will Curtain’s legacy end up being not the great cup run, but being the guy who pushed Okugo out the door!

    • If Edu is in the mid range plans for this team there’s no room for Amobi. It will be a real challenge to embrace that vision on my end. We’ve seen Edu’s ceiling- average to slightly above- crowding our other two midfielders. Promised myself to take a break from all this midfielder talk.

      • I am concerned that Edu’s reputation and USMNT experience will cloud the evaluation of his actual play. Okugo is the present and future at CDM, but continually benching Okugo will seal his contract fate. Why would he sign here again if he’s not going to be the mainstay at his position.

  11. The worst officiated Union match I have seen in my life.

    • Not by a long shot. Official wasn’t perfect but I’ve certainly seen much worse. If you’re talking about the lack of a penalty towards the end, it was one that could have gone either way with most officials not calling a penalty on it. The replay seemed to show that there was contact with both the ball and the man with the ball contact coming first. That makes it a judgment call for the ref.

      • I should amend that — the worst officiated Union game I have attended in person. I’ve seen worse on TV.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        The Nogs foul was a PK. The defender stuck is leg out after being beat and fouled him. Period.

  12. The result is disappointing but the damage to playoff hopes was done under the prior coach. After LA, who wouldn’t have settled for this 5-game dogfight & hosting the Cup final? This was going to be a tough week as soon as Zac won it in Dallas. But when did this become our best XI? The biggest matches so far were the 2 wins in 4 days over TFC. The long term effect of the switch from Amobi to Mo if we win a playoff game is we have to extend Mo. If we miss out, do we switch back, let Mo go and spend the difference on a striker upgrade?

  13. I, and I recognize that it might only be I, think that this was a sign of really good things. Sure, the Union need to convert some of those sitters in front of the net, but they took more shots last night than in some MONTHS last year and the year before. They are thinking offensively, and the shots will eventually fall for them. I would have loved for them to get the hardware from the Open Cup, as would everybody else, but last night showed me that they can be simply ferocious. The start of the second half gives me reason to think that they watched what Seattle did the other night and came back out to control the game. A luckier bounce on one of the balls into the box, or a referee that recognizes a takedown when it happens directly in front of him, and the Union have this game. Much happier watching this year. Thanks guys. Stay patient; it will happen as long as you keep working this hard.

    • Yeah, watching the highlights and it’s 90 percent near misses from Philly. They could have easily had between 3 and 5 goals with a millisecond difference to get those shots off before a defenders foot deflected them. They looked really good with some offensive plays that are nice to see. I’ll try to stay positive about it, too.

      And like philpil said above, the damage to the playoff chances really happened this season before Curtin took over. AS much as it hurts to give up two points, you can’t blame Curtin for the hole he started in.

  14. Part of me says that this was a letdown game for the strikers, everyone playing on short rest, a fair degree of bad luck (especially the penalty non-call), we seriously outplayed Houston anyway, and the team can’t recover. Part of me sees NYRB beating up the Sounders despite playing a ton of matches, while we couldn’t get it done against a struggling, injury-ridden Houston team, at home, in the heat of a playoff run.

    Have to say that I now think the team will fail to make the playoffs. If we couldn’t get it done last night, I scarcely think we’ll be able to get in done against DC, KC, and Columbus. It’ll likely come down to the Columbus matches, but we’re likely going to finish in 6th place, right behind the yellow guys.

    • Unable to score a goal against that team = Should not make the playoffs

      • Geez, one game of a few squandered chances and some bad luck in front of the net and the Union aren’t worthy of a playoff spot anymore? I think we need to realize that our current record is not indicative of how we are playing currently. This year has been a tale of 2 halves of a season if there ever was one, with the 1st half being nothing short of a 4 alarm dumpster fire and the 2nd half being something like 11-3-4 (too lazy to check exact stats) across all competitions. That’s as good as anything you’ll see in the OMG western conference. We played well enough to win last night’s game 3 or 4 to zero, we just came up short. I’d be far more worried if we tied 0-0 and generated few or no scoring chances, looked lethargic and indifferent, or worst of all, looked like we did at the beginning of the season.

      • Unfortunately playoff berths are not based on team currently in the best form. Union dug a hole in 1st half of season and cannot afford to drop points because of that. They have dropped points the past two Saturdays against teams they are directly competing with for a spot. And I take no comfort in a wait til next year attitude because this is not a young team growing into itself.

      • I am not sure we can clean up the mess of the US Open Cup final and that is the starting line up selection. This team was flowing and scoring goals with Edu in defense and Okugo in the middle and they did this even when we did not have Nog or Chaco due to injuries. Curtin went back to being Hack and here we are again talking of midfield and not scoring goals, except we are not blaming Carroll.

      • JC can’t run the same guys out for all 3 games. That lineup stayed with the best team in the league. But I’d like to go back to the XI that won the TFC home – and – away. Unless JC can explain why suddenly Amobi is odd man out. I think he should he come on in response to Martins as it was. I still like our chances.

      • I’m just saying, Houston played like shit

      • james Lockerbie says:

        My observations of the last two games seem like flashbacks t o the beginning of the season. No luck no finishing! We need to continue the game plan Curtin has set up but on offense we must add a few plays in the playbook. Such as a few long distance shots and like Wenger did late in the game charge the net take on a defenseman. It can’t be all crosses from the wing. Corners we MUST add some verity short pass far post near post.

      • A Casey who has more time between games puts away at least one of those chances. He tried the same first touch rocket on every one. Horst timed his block anticipating it.In hindsight, Ribeiro starts and Conor comes on at the hour mark. With weekly matches here on in, he gets his rest.

      • James Lockerbie says:

        I hope your right. It would be a shame if we end this season coming up short again.

  15. Hello all. Been thinking alot today and really feel strongly this team could be at a crossroads. JC makes no bones about his position with Okugo being odd man out and it really gives pause to reevaluate my beliefs.
    I believe in intellectual honesty. We build narratives around our arguments to support our postitions and it is fun.
    I also recognize our nature to confirm our biases. Maybe that happens with Amobi Okugo and my constant arguments on his behalf. I’ve watched him since he played at college. I have it on really good authority he has a very high ceiling. I’ve watched him grow in the last 5 years. Maybe now judgement is clouded. Maybe Edu is the better player. Maybe the FO put money into a player they need to keep in midfield. Who knows.
    Having said that, I am going to really attempt to remove ego and watch the mid field as though I had no rooting interest in this team. I want to see Edu play. I want to see Okugo play and really try to be authentic in the assessent. Ultimately not a damn bit of it matters but it does to me and the hopes are we can all continue to question the why and the what of our arguments/narratives/biases. It will make us all more sophisticated followers of this great game, which is truly what the sport needs in this country and why this sight is fun and valuable. Argue on.

    • I wonder how Edu stacks up against Okugo in any critical OPTA stat analysis. I wish I could find a player to player comparison to see if there are numbers that Curtin and Co. are seeing that would explain, why they favor White vs Okugo, which might be the real comparison being made.

      Curtin clearly thinks Edu’s role on this team is in the midfield. Barring any injuries at CB, I think Saturday’s lineup is going to be our regular starting XI.

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