Let me tell you a story about a game I played on Football Manager. Despite my best efforts, nothing seemed to be working and my Houston Dynamo were dead last in the Western Conference and the Philadelphia Union were killing it in the opposite. In fact they had the best offense in the entire league, but their defense left a lot to be desired. The best I was able to come up with was a deep run into the US Open Cup which, of course, the Union were doing too.
The Union! One playoff appearance in their history in which they were resoundingly defeated by the Dynamo oh so many years ago. Leading the conference. The world is topsy turvy. Leave it to a video game simulator to create chaos.
Wait…what? This is happening in real life!?!
Yes indeed the Union are the best team in the East with a two point lead over…….NYC? What the heck is going on over there? Doesn’t anyone have any respect for consistency?
Enough broad strokes. The Dynamo are coming off an impressive performance (albeit a bit nervy) against Sporting KC in the Round of 16 of the US Open Cup. Philly defeated the Red Bulls in their own Open Cup match. It just so happens that they are on opposite sides of the bracket so there is a chance, perhaps one day, they could meet later this season. That’s another article for another day.
Since June, the Union have four wins and two losses in all competitions but have had a difficult time stringing results together in league play. They wrapped up a three game homestand, including the Open Cup, with two victories and a loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. In total they scored 8 goals while giving up 7, making the games extremely exciting if not a bit disappointing.
Believe it or not, but the Union’s most effective offensive threat is Chris Pontius, who left DC after one injury problem after another and has found his health and form. He’s racked up an impressive six goals and four assists and has shown no sign of slowing down. The striker that has helped him so much is CJ Sapong who is questionable for the game with an ankle injury. Even without him, Roland Alberg and Sebastien Le Toux have been more than capable in providing offense.
Many thought that without Maurice Edu, the team would lack the spine to make a strong challenge. Instead, the team has rallied and rebounded magnificently. Unfortunately it isn’t all sunshine for the Union as Vicent Nogueira left the team recently. He left for “personal health issues.” The French midfielder was a huge part of their midfield and they are most definitely worse off for it. So far it hasn’t impacted them too much but one has to wonder if they aren’t vulnerable.
For the Union, this is the kind of game they absolutely should win. Playoff teams should beat non playoff teams.
So how do the Dynamo not get into a shootout they’ve shown little skill in doing? Clog the midfield. They don’t need to possess the ball but they do need to control the ball as they did for most of the game against Sporting earlier in the week. During the first half of that game, Sporting had only low-percentage shots on goal and never threatened to score. The midfielders did an excellent job of intercepting passes and pushing them into the center where the lanes were clogged.
Ricardo Clark and Collen Warner will need to be sharp to do just that. They’ll also need to get the ball out to the wingers so they can push forward to help out Will Bruin in offense. The striker bagged his 50th MLS goal last week and, if history repeats itself, he’ll be good for another goal or two before going dark again.
Pouncing on the Union defense early is key as they aren’t any better than what the Dynamo have put out this season. The difference is current form: the Dynamo have only given up multiple goals once since the beginning of June while the Union are the complete opposite. The Union may be lacking in confidence and as such can be taken advantage of. While the Dynamo have shown the kind of spine that’s been lacking for quite some time.
If the Dynamo are serious about getting back into the playoff race, this is a must win. They’re falling far, far behind, and the window is closing quickly. On the flip side, the Union cannot afford to lose this game, otherwise there is a serious risk of falling out of first place. This game has the hallmarks of a draw or a Union victory. With the crowded schedule and quality of the Union offense, getting a point will be a victory.