MLS- Philadelphia Union

Dynamo take charge by beating Union at PPL Park

DynamoWin (Getty)


CHESTER, Pa. – In a game between a two-time MLS Cup champion and a team two years into its existence, one squad's playoff experience shined through.

After Andre Hainault and Sebastien Le Toux traded goals in a furious opening seven minutes, Calen Carr netted a 30th minute winner and the Houston Dynamo held on for the final hour to earn an 2-1 away win over the Philadelphia Union in front of a sellout crowd at PPL Park.

Despite only losing one game at home all season, Philadelphia was beaten after a gamble with the defensive formation backfired. Houston managed to create numerous chances on crosses into the box and MVP candidate Brad Davis impressed once again, assisting on Hainault's goal with one of his trademark left-footed free kicks.

Sebastien Le Toux continued his fine form as well for Philadelphia, scoring in the seventh minute for his 11th goal in 13 games. But after Carr put the Dynamo up on the half-hour mark, the Union were unable to recover in their first playoff game.

Peter Nowak made his squad more attacking with the second-haf introductions of Jack McInerney, Roger Torres, and Freddy Adu, but Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall made an astonishing nine saves to preserve the win for his team.

Nowak opened the game with a formation that the Union had not used at all throughout the entire season. Stefani Miglioranzi slotted in between Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes to form a three-man defensive line, pushing fullbacks Gabriel Farfan and Sheanon Williams farther up the wings. Miglioranzi had not played since the Union's September 7 game against New England. In that match, the team gave up four first half goals and he was subbed out at halftime.

The opening seven minutes of the game were wild, as both teams got on the scorebaord early and seemed to erase any playoff nerves they may have harbored. Houston scored in the fifth minute on a corner kick when Brad Davis played a perfect cross into the box and Andre Hainault headed it past Faryd Mondragon.

Philadelphia responded quickly, though, when Michael Farfan played a lob pass over the Houston defense to Sebastien Le Toux, who tied the game in the seventh minute with a confident finish.

Houston took the lead again in the 30th minute when Brian Ching played a weighted through ball to Calen Carr. The former Chicago Fire forward, acquired during the season for Dominic Oduro, finished the play to give Houston a 2-1 lead.

In the second half, Nowak returned to the Union's normal formational setup, moving Miglioranzi up into the midfield. Later on, he subbed out Miglioranzi for Jack McInerney and brought on creative midfielders Roger Torres and Freddy Adu in a desperate attempt for an equalizer.

Philadelphia came close to tying the match on several occasions. Torres saw his free kick saved in the upper right corner in the 74th minute, while McInerney's header clanged off the bar in the 88th.

The Dynamo managed to hold on, though, to give them a big advantage heading into the second leg on Thursday at Robertson Stadium in Houston.

"I think we knew what we were coming in to, I think we knew they would be a counter-attacking team and that they would sit back, try to defend, then throw numbers forward and that is exactly what they did," said Brad Davis. "Overall I think we battled, knew what was coming. It was a typical road game, a typical playoff game and I think they guys grinded it out."

Houston was buoyed by the great play of goalkeeper Tally Hall, whose nine saves throughout the match preserved the Dynamo's one-goal advantage.

"He was very good tonight," Dynamo coach Dom Kinnear said. "He commanded the box pretty well, and made some good saves. Tally played good."

Both goalkeepers played outstandingly in what was a matchup of this year's two MLS All Star goalies. Faryd Mondragon made an important save late in the game on Davis to keep the deficit at one heading into the second leg.

Philadelphia was left to rue a number of good chances that it created late on. The poor finishing left the Union in a big hole as they move into their second-ever playoff game on Thursday.

"We got good chances. It's not like we didn't create anything," said Nowak. "I would be very upset if we did not create anything, but we did. But if you're gonna get the chances, you've got to find yourself in a position to make sure that you challenge the defenders, that you challenge the goalkeeper. From this perspective, I think you can say we didn't do enough damage on the defensive side."

If there is one positive the Union can draw from the result, though, it's that the team knows it needs a win, and in the franchise's two visits to Houston, it has won both games.

"It shows us that we can believe in ourselves," said Brian Carroll. "We know that we've done it before and we can do it again. Obviously everything's heightened being in the playoffs, but I have full confidence in the guys, each and every one of us, that we can go down there and win the second half of this series."

The series will now head to Robertson Stadium for the second leg on Thursday night. Away goals do not count as a tiebreaker in the MLS Cup playoffs, so each team knows what it needs to advance to the conference final. A draw will be enough at home for the Dynamo, or a win by any margin. Meanwhile, the Union must win by at least two goals to win the series outright, while a one-goal win would send the series to extra time, or even penalties.

  • Martek

    That defensive formation was amazing. It looked like it was the first time they had ever done that. Typical Piotr Nowak move. What a maroon.

    But as it is, my Houston Dynamo get a gutty, gutty win and get lucky, to be fair with a crossbar etc. helping them in second half.


  • Khan

    It’s been said several times, but it needs to be said a several times more.

    Any coach that leaves Roger Torres, Freddy Adu and Jack Mac on the bench in a home game against the hottest team in MLS deserves to lose.

    Who did he start over those three? Stefani Miglioranzi. A man who hasn’t played in a month and a half, and was subbed out at half time in the last game he did play because he was SO BAD. And he started him out of position to run a 3 CB backline… just wow.


  • Broad Street Hooligans

    Yea there’s no reason the Union shouldn’t have started with the team that finished the game (with Mwanga instead of Mac). The formation really was something extremely odd in the first half and that they had never done live before. It didn’t make much sense, although I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing it next year, it doesn’t make sense to change so much this late in the season.


  • @CILII_blog

    “one squad’s playoff experience shined through” Really?

    Anywa, Union deserved to lose this game. Nowak trying to outsmart everyone else.


  • Neumannator

    From my seat, you could see the Union with a completely flat 5 in the back for the better part of the first half. The joke of that was that Houston contined to exploit the wings and the Union were lucky to get out of the half down 1. Bizarre stuff.

    Officiating clearly wasn’t the difference but man did they suck.


  • dan c

    I’ll give you Torres, and maybe Adu (who hasn’t done squat side from the goal in Seattle) but what the hell has Jack Mac ever done? Everyone cries for him but he has NEVER had an impact on any game he has either started or been subbed in for. He is not a target striker (which the U desperately lack) and every one of his runs are vertical. he is easy to read, easy to push off the ball and easy to defend in the box. I have season tix and can’t for the life of me figure out what everyone thinks they see in him.

    I won’t kill nowak for the formation, on paper it made sense to pack the middle to defend Davis’ service, it just didn’t work. The moment was to big for our young squad, hopefully they will play better in Houston since the pressure will seem to be off…..


  • JAmes

    Jack MAc had twice the effect on the game than Mwanga did. Besides his one run that ended with a shot right at hall, MWanga was invisible. And you say all of Jack Macs runs are vertical? Thats exactly what we need. Le Toux likes to run around and collect the ball, we need someone to stay forward and be a risk to penetrate the final third every time we have the ball. jack mac is that striker for us.


  • BFT

    I agree that union deserved to lose despite the officials…but my god they were atrocious. Totally inconsistent, missed a couple of big calls and nearly lost control of the game on more than on occasion.


  • dan c

    Jac Mac had no affect on that game. The U had chances when he was in because they threw everything at Houston. Mac is horrible in possesion, has no hold up play whatsoever and isn’t strong in the box. He didnt get his head to one cross once the Union started throwing it into the mixer at the end. I’m not saying Mwanga had a good game, I agree with you that he was invisible like most of the season, I’m just saying that this kid is treated like the Fonz at ppl park and he’s never done anything, nor shown anything.

    Also, Mac staying forward and being a “risk” as you say has nothing to do with the quality, timing, or direction of his runs. Him staying forward is simply him playing the position of striker. We need a striker who can actually do all of the things you said in your post (to compliment Letoux, someone like a Moreno maybe…..)

    not what you wish Mac did….


  • McMohansky

    Couldn’t agree more. Jack Mac and Mwanga have both been very disappointing this year. Difference is, we’ve seen Mwanga’s class before but Jack hasn’t yet shown the ability to finish. Still quite raw.


  • Esteban de la Sexface

    dan c is right on with this. McInerny and Adu have been very, very poor for Philly.


  • Esteban de la Sexface

    Houston was the better team although a draw was certainly on the table for Philly. They just didn’t finish in the end.

    Houston was too physical for Philly so while the Union had plenty of corners and Williams long throw-ins, they were never likely to amount to much thanks to the size and strength of Houston.

    Philly looked a lot better at the beginning of the second half when Miglioranzi moved about 10 yards up the field which allowed Carroll and Farfan to put some more pressure on Adam Moffat. Moffat ran the game in the first half as Philly sat back and couldn’t put pressure on the ball without exposing themselves in the back. Frankly, I think Novak panicked a bit w/the subs – if he would’ve kept with the tweaked 2nd half formation, I think Philly would’ve been far more dangerous than throwing on Adu and McInerny (Philly’s two worst players this season).

    Other thoughts: Moffat looked really good and Brad Davis is one of the best in the league. Wasn’t that impressed with Brian Ching. Houston are a huge team: they have a few normal-sized guys and then a bunch of giants (Ching, Costly, Bruin, Hainault, Cameron, Boswell, Watson). Even their normal-size guys aren’t small (save for Ashe).


  • Danny

    I think that’s the dumbest sports cliche ever, “the pressure is off of us now.” I read comments from several Union players on the net claiming they aren’t pressured anymore. If you don’t feel pressure to win in a playoff game, then why are you playing? What just because you lost the first game, whatever happens in the second leg is whatever? Really Union, are you just happy to be in the playoffs?

    That’s a loser’s mentality and I don’t buy it for one second. The difference in the second leg is this, Philly is a defensive side who know has to attack to at least send the game to overtime. In their first meeting, Philly had an early goal on Houston and sat back the rest of the match, which has been the Union’s M.O. the entire season – grind out little 1-0 victories. They don’t have that luxury anymore, now they have to go earn result. Yes, they looked good attacking in the second half; easy to do it when 18,000 fans are cheering you on. On Thursday, the Union will have to open up to try to equalize the series, and leave themselves vulnerable for counterattacks. Plus, they’ll have to deal with the 30,000 Dynamo fans at the Rob. I don’t think Philly stands a chance.


  • wann

    No one mentions the hand ball by Davis in the box which should have been a penalty and ejection. And no one mentioned Camerons takedown in the box that should have been another penalty. The union got screwed by the refs.


  • Crying_River

    Not to mention the kick to the face Cruz took should have been a red in the first 5 mins.


  • Kishan Jeter

    The ref made some blunders but all in all it worked out in the end. Sure, Davis did handball in the box and Philly should’ve gotten a penalty kick. But, the high kick to Danny Cruz’s face was inexcuseable. Philly should’ve been playing with 10 men the remainder of the game and if that would’ve happend, the Union would’ve been down 5 goals or more. The non-call regarding Geoff Cameron was a good call, he actually landed on the ball and by that it was cleared before he made contact with Philly’s player.

    The only reason Philly looked better in the 2nd half was cause not only did they try harder but Houston seemed content on protecting their 1 goal lead. I hate when teams do that. This isn’t the regular season, more goals are needed. Houston needs to full out attack the whole game, not just preserve a win. They were scared to over expose themselves for Philly’s deadly counter attack.

    Overall, it was a good game. The better team won. I hope Houston keeps the gas peddle on full throttle for both halves on Thursday.


  • matfitz

    ” I think Philly would’ve been far more dangerous than throwing on Adu and McInerny (Philly’s two worst players this season).”

    Stefani Miglioranzi has been the U’s worst player this year and its not even close.


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