CHESTER, Pa. – After dropping a 2-1 contest in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series with the Houston Dynamo, the Philadelphia Union know there are adjustments to be made heading into the second 90 minutes Thursday at Robertson Stadium (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes).
After Sunday's first leg and two close matches during the regular season – one in which Philadelphia were able to win 1-0 in Houston on opening night and the other a 1-1 draw at PPL Park – it's safe to say the two sides are familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
One of Houston's major strengths, set pieces, has already proven to be a difference-maker. In the fifth minute on Sunday, Brad Davis’ free kick found the head of Andre Hainault to give Houston an early 1-0 lead.
“We know each other very well. It's nothing new for us,” said manager Peter Nowak. “The fighting was what we expected, the stuff off the ball. The set piece goal is what we expected and we just need to do better with that.”
Looking ahead to the second leg, the Union defense knows they will have to tighten up in the penalty area.
“We need to be ready for their set pieces from the outside,” said centerback Danny Califf. “We knew that it would be a strength of theirs coming in and there we go – the first set piece and we don’t do a good job on it.”
Putting away scoring chances is another area the Union will look to improve on come Thursday. Philadelphia’s loss came despite 17 shots and 11 shots on target. Sebastien Le Toux’s seventh minute volley off a deflected service from Michael Farfan was the only successful finish.
“I thought we played well overall, we just need to finish our chances,” said second-half sub Jack McInerney. “We had opportunities putting the ball in behind the defense, but either someone didn’t make the run or it wasn’t a good enough ball. We just have to keep creating opportunities and hopefully put the ball in the net.”
The Union played a strong second half, but couldn't squeeze a second goal out of it. Philadelphia had seven corners to Houston's none in the second half, but they were either ineffective or saved by Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall, who was exceptional in net with nine saves.
Fortunately for the Union, it's effectively only halftime.
"There's no time to get your head down and hang your head for a few days," said midfielder Justin Mapp. "It's a quick turnarond and we just have to roll up our sleeves and give it our best.
"We have to push the game because we're down a goal at this point, but we can't leave ourselves too exposed because if you give up a goal or two it's going to be a tough mountain to climb at that point. So we'll have to take our chances going forward but at the same time try to be strong in the back as well. It'll be a challenge."
Whereas the Union came out on Sunday in a defensive configuration with an emphasis on counter-attacking, Philadelphia figure to employ a more offensive mindset from the opening whistle Thursday.
"We just need a goal to tie it up," said midfielder Brian Carroll. "We've done it before [in Houston]. I think we have confidence in ourselves, in each and every one of us, that we can do it again. Now it's just about going down there and getting it done."