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Preview: Union vs Dynamo

Following a 3-0 victory over Chivas USA last weekend, Philadelphia Union (7-13-6) suffered one of their worst defeats of the season four days later, a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids. The result leaves the Union on the brink of playoff elimination, needing both a win against the Houston Dynamo (7-14-5) Saturday and a Seattle Sounders loss to remain mathematically alive. Philadelphia currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 27 points from 26 matches on the season.


The Dynamo have already been dealt their fatal blow and will miss the postseason for the first time since the club’s move to Houston in 2006. The final straw was through no fault of their own, however, as Dominic Kinnear’s side put an end to a four-game winless run, scoring three second-half goals to secure a 3-1 win against D.C. United at RFK Stadium. The Dynamo are currently in seventh place in the Western Conference with 26 points from 25 games.

Two of the stranger moments of the 2010 MLS campaign occurred at the end of Houston’s 3-1 victory, with at least one resulting in an absence for Saturday’s contest against Philadelphia. Following a hard foul by DC’s Julius James on Dominic Oduro, United interim Head Coach Ben Olsen and Kinnear exchanged a handshake outside of the technical area that resulted in the ejection of both managers. Kinnear will not be on the sidelines at PPL Park, and he could also be without his starting goalkeeper after Pat Onstad suffered a blow to the head caused by a collision with Andrew Hainault after the 90-minute mark. The injury set up 11 minutes of stoppage time and the latest goal ever scored in a regulation 90-minute MLS match, when Oduro tallied in the 100th minute. Despite the knock, Onstad participated fully in training on Friday and is probable for Saturday.

For the Union, Saturday will be an opportunity to get back on track and begin the task of finishing their inaugural season on a positive note. The disheartening loss to Colorado was certainly a low point, especially after such an encouraging win at home to cap off the best defensive stretch of the season. It must be remembered, however, that the Rapids have been nearly unbeatable at home this year, losing only once (to the league-leading LA Galaxy). In fact, Jack McInerney’s late consolation strike broke Colorado’s 517-minute home scoreless streak and an equally impressive stretch of 15 consecutive goals scored at home without a goal allowed.

The friendly confines of PPL Park will act in Philadelphia’s favor, as Peter Nowak’s side has only lost twice in their new grounds and not at all in the club’s last five league matches (six in all competitions). The Union have a 5-2-5 record at home on the season, including a 4-2-4 mark on the Chester Waterfront, while the Dynamo have a 2-9-2 record away from Robertson Stadium.

In the last meeting between the two clubs, Philadelphia earned their first road win in franchise history, erasing a 2-1 second half deficit with goals from Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga. Mwanga’s game-winner came in dramatic fashion in the waning moments of stoppage time, sending Houston’s season into a downward spiral. The second leg will be an opportunity for Philadelphia to capture their first-ever sweep of a season series.

Matchups to Watch:

Brad Davis vs Justin Mapp

After Shea Salinas’ wonder-goal in the first half back in May, Brad Davis spurred Houston’s comeback after the interval with two perfectly-placed set pieces from nearly identical locations. While Brian Ching is the club’s assassin, Davis is their engine, as evidenced by his five goals and nine assists on the season. He’s within range of his 2009 totals (five goals and 12 assists) and has assisted on goals in three consecutive games, tied for the second longest streak in MLS this season.

If rookie striker Danny Mwanga is forced out of the starting lineup with a strained left shoulder (listed as probable for the match), Davis will likely see a lot of Philadelphia winger Justin Mapp. The Union’s midseason acquisition has earned a regular role in the Union’s starting XI, typically featuring on the right when Sebastien Le Toux is forced to play up top. Mapp has made a substantial impact since joining the expansion side, racking up a goal and four assists in just eight starts, while seemingly cementing himself in Nowak’s 2011 plans in the process. The 25-year-old’s ability to beat opposing players with the ball at his feet is an invaluable ingredient, one that figures to play heavily into Saturday match. If Mapp can create chances in the attacking third and slow down Houston’s most dangerous playmaker, Philadelphia will be in good shape in front of their hometown faithful.

Philadelphia Union vs Time

While nothing is ever impossible, Philadelphia’s chances of sneaking into the playoffs are all but shot, with even three points on Saturday potentially not enough to keep the inaugural season dream alive. So the question inevitably becomes: Continue to focus solely on earning three points every match or begin to transition into a brief planning-for-2011 phase?

The answer probably lies somewhere in between. While results are always important, even when they don’t mean anything in the standings, there’s certainly something to be said for evaluating talented young prospects who have seen limited minutes in 2010. Beyond aiding the decision-making process with a two-team Expansion Draft looming in the offseason, there are a number of young prospects who have shown well in limited action but could undoubtedly benefit from additional in-game seasoning against first-team squads.

Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo, Kyle Nakazawa, Sheanon Williams, and Roger Torres immediately pop to mind as players who could eventually become franchise cornerstones, but still have some maturation ahead (Mwanga not included due to his prolonged starting spot). It’s hard to think of a better way to achieve that goal than to throw the youngsters into the fire, effective immediately. Saturday's match should provide a glimpse into the technical staff’s strategy down the stretch.

NOTE: New and gently used coats will be collected at PPL Park during Philadelphia Union's three matches in October to help keep Chester residents warm this winter.

More Analysis

Union, Dynamo Look to End Season on a High

Play by Play Plus: Union Look to Rebound After Rough Night in Colorado

WATCH: Dynamo Preview

Last Meeting Highlights

Philadelphia 3, Houston 2

Last Match Highlights

Colorado 4, Philadelphia 1

Houston 3, DC 1

Philadelphia Union Injury Report

QUESTIONABLE: MF Eduardo Coudet (R calf strain)

PROBABLE: MF Stefani Miglioranzi (L shin contusion); FW Danny Mwanga (L shoulder sprain)

Houston Dynamo Injury Report

OUT: MF Colin Clark (L knee surgery), MF Anthony Obodai (L knee meniscus)

DOUBTFUL: GK Tally Hall (R ankle sprain)

PROBABLE: GK Pat Onstad (concussion)

Match Information

Date: Saturday, October 2, 2010

Time: 4:00pm ET

Location: PPL Park (Chester, PA)

Television: Live Well HD Network/MyNetworkTV WQMY/Telefutura

Talent: Glenn Davis (Play-by-Play), Tommy Smyth (Color Analyst)

Referee: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Joe Fletcher; JAR (opposite): Peter Balciunas; 4th: Abbey Okulaja