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Houston Dynamo Forget to Play Soccer; Dominated by Philadelphia Union

Alex drives at the Vancouver Whitecaps defense. Photo by Nigel Brooks.

The Houston Dynamo began their long summer road trip with a 2 – 0 loss to the Philadelphia Union. Doop Town dominated the proceedings in the first half before bunkering brilliantly in the second to close the game out. Despite repeated substitutions and tactical changes, nothing seemed to work to break down the Union, and the reasons are obvious.

First off: this game works great in a selfish sort of way in that there is an article going to drop soon about breaking down the tactical system Wilmer Cabrera has Houston running. The loss shows just why he has the Dynamo playing a 4-3-3 of the counter attacking variety. Keep an eye out on the page for that shortly.

The Union started the game off by pressing the Dynamo defense hard. With constant pressure put on the defense, the midfield was forced to drop back to help out, leaving the three strikers on an island. Even when they dropped back to help out, it wasn’t enough to keep the Union off the board just 17 minutes in. Ilsinho laid the ball off toChris Pontius, who collected the ball along the far flank. With yards of space between himself and DaMarcus Beasley, he whipped a cross towards the near post, where Fafa Picault was unmarked. AJ Delagarza was watching the ball approach, rather than the runner and was punished for it.

With the lead, the Philadelphia Union kept the pressure up, while moving back into defense smartly. Houston had a difficult time breaking them down, in large part due to the fact that Alex wasn’t able to get on the ball much. The Brazilian midfielder was isolated throughout his 56 minutes, accumulating only 18 passes and crosses, with only 11 finding their mark. Without their creative player in the middle, the offense was in trouble, but that isn’t the reason why they lost this match, per se.

Ricardo Clark collects the ball in a game against Minnesota United. Photo by Nigel Brooks.

Philly doubled their lead in the 38th minute when CJ Sapong made a great tackle deep into the Dynamo’s midfield. He picked his head up and laid it off to Pontius out wide. Chris sent a low cross through the heart of the Dynamo’s box where Ilsinho was completely unmarked at the top of the 6, and made no mistake in calmly tapping the ball past a diving Willis. Again the ball came down the Dynamo’s left side.

Houston dodged some last chances in the half but kept the score line reachable. They came out fired up and pushed the Union onto their back heels. Despite controlling possession for the remainder of the game, it did them no good and fed right into Philadelphia’s plan. With Alex so ineffective, Cabrera brought in Uruguayan midfielder Vicente Sanchez. He had his best minutes for the team to date, creating several chances and setting up teammates to whip in crosses that were never on point.

Despite bringing in Andrew Wenger for Mauro Manotas and Joe Holland for Romell Quioto, nothing changed. Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was rarely tested, only needing to make two (real) saves in the entire match, one in each half. The first was a long range effort while the latter was a rush-out when Wenger got behind the defense.

So why did the Dynamo fail to grab any points against a surging Union? Part of it comes down to facing a team high on confidence and form. Another is that it is a road game and Houston always seems to fall apart on the road. Mostly, though, it comes down to this: they lack the players with incisive passing and creativity to break down a bunker. Especially once they were up by a pair, the Union rarely ventured out to grab a third, leaving precious little space to be hurt on the counter; the Dynamo’s bread and butter. Poor defending out wide from AJ and Beasley also cost them defensively in the first half, though the center backs and Ricardo Clark don’t escape blame on either goal.

Basically, the Philadelphia Union said: “Come at me, bro!”

Houston took them up on the offer and couldn’t land a hit. They competed on the Union’s terms and I’m pretty sure there is a really smart guy who had a thing or two to say about that.

Erick Torres waits for the play to find him against Seattle Sounders. Photo by Gia Quilap.

A quick side note: Holland has been with the Toros since being drafted 10th overall and done really well. His first minutes in MLS didn’t result in any stats to be proud of but he did hustle well and looked like he belonged. With the Dynamo picking up three yellow cards, he might get called on again to cover for suspensions of one sort or the other and it’s good he get familiar now rather than later.

There’s little time for the team to dwell on this. They turn right around and head south to Atlanta for a Saturday match that is sure to promise a ton of goals. Hopefully of the evenly distributed kind. If they repeat this performance, it could get ugly. More on that in the preview. The Philadelphia Union stay at home to welcome the Colorado Rapids, hoping to nab another three points and a likely clean sheet.

What did you guys think of the game? Worried that the poor performance might carry over to Saturday and beyond? What changes would you have made to beat the Union? Excited about Holland’s performance? Whatever your thoughts, leave them in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter and Facebook @KeeperNotes.

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