The Union fell to the Houston Dynamo, 2-1, this evening in their first ever playoff game at PPL Park.
Houston got on the scoreboard with its first chance of the game. A trademark free kick service from Brad Davis in the fifth minute landed on the head of Andrew Hainault, giving the Dynamo a 1-0 lead.
"The set piece goal is what we expected and we just need to do better with that," Union manager Peter Nowak said after the game. "I thought there was a very good response from the [Union players] after the [Houston] goal on the set piece."
Philadelphia struck back quickly, as just two minutes later Sébastien Le Toux fired in a pass from Michael Farfan to tie the score at 1-1.
With the Union effectively playing a five-man back line, the Dynamo controlled possession through the first half and had most of the chances. Calen Carr gave Houston a deserved lead in the 30th minute, slotting home a shot after receiving the ball from Brian Ching.
The first half was also marked by a number of hard fouls and quite a bit of trash talk. Referee Jair Marrufo handed out six yellow cards in the opening 45 minutes, four to the Union and two to the Dynamo.
In the second half, Philadelphia pushed the tempo more and generated more chances. But they could not break down the Dynamo's defense.
Roger Torres and a less-than-healthy Freddy Adu livened up the attack in the final half hour. Houston's back line consistently cleared out corner kicks and free kicks, though, and goalkeeper Tally Hall made some big saves - including on a diving header from Carlos Valdés on the very last play of the game.
It should not go unmentioned that Houston's Brad Davis got away with a pretty blatant handball in the box off a Union corner kick early in the second half. If Marrufo or either of his linesmen had seen that, perhaps the final score would have been different.
Now the Union go south to Texas for the second leg of the series, which will be played Thursday night at 8:30 p.m.
"It may be good for this team to go into the [road] leg without the pressure to have to defend," Nowak said.
A 2-1 aggregate deficit is not too big of a hill for the Union to climb, especially considering that they have won in both their trips to Houston in club history. But they will be under a lot of pressure to score goals, something they struggled to do on home turf today.
"All we have to do is go there and win, and then the game is on level terms," Union defender Danny Califf said. "We have everything to play for - you're always bummed out when you lose, but the fact that it's a two game series... it's crystal clear we need to win."
You can read the transcript of my live game chat below.
Time: 5:00 p.m. EDT
Venue: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
TV: ESPN2 (Rob Stone and Taylor Twellman)/ESPN3.com/ESPN Deportes
Danny Mwanga and Stefani Miglioranzi are in Peter Nowak's starting lineup for the first ever playoff game in Philadelphia Union history.
With an eye towards containing Houston midfielder Brad Davis, Nowak's XI includes what looks like a flat four-man midfield, with two holding midfielders and the offense coming from the wings.
Michael Farfan will have some defensive responsibilities in addition to being tasked with creating from his flank. Justin Mapp will attack from the other side.
Miglioranzi's inclusion in the starting lineup is a surprise, but there are no defenders on the Union's bench. That will allow Nowak to shift Miglioranzi back in the second half, or sub him off for an attacking player.
I would expect to see Freddy Adu as the first substitute after halftime, and probably Roger Torres as well. It will be interesting to see if that gives Torres enough time to settle into the flow of the game and create chances for Sébastien Le Toux and Mwanga.
The biggest surprise from Houston's lineup is that Honduran striker Carlos Costly is on the bench. Calen Carr will shoulder the attacking load up front with Brian Ching.
My prediction for the series and players to watch can be found here:
Philadelphia Union (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragón
Defenders: Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdés, Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan
Midfielders: Brian Carroll, Stefani Miglioranzi, Justin Mapp, Michael Farfan
Forwards: Sébastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga
Bench: GK Zac MacMath; Ms Freddy Adu, Morgan Langley, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Roger Torres; F Jack McInerney
Houston Dynamo (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Tally Hall
Defenders: Andrew Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe
Midfielders: Adam Moffat, Danny Cruz, Brad Davis, Luis Camargo
Forwards: Brian Ching, Calen Carr
Bench: GK Tyler Deric; Ds Hunter Freeman, Jermaine Taylor; Ms Colin Clark, Je-Vaughn Watson; Fs Will Bruin, Carlos Costly
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