CHESTER, Pa. – The Philadelphia Union’s first-ever MLS Cup playoff game was spoiled by another first: the Houston Dynamo’s first-ever victory over the Union.
In front of 18,539 fans at PPL Park on Sunday evening, Houston got goals from Andre Hainault and Calen Carr to edge host Philadelphia, 2-1, in an emotionally charged Eastern Conference Semifinal game.
Despite a goal from Sébastien Le Toux, the Union, who were 2-0-2 all-time against the Dynamo coming into Sunday’s game, now enter the second leg of the series down a goal in the aggregate.
The Dynamo were able to sustain an effective attack throughout much of the game, even though Philly employed a five-man backline that included Stefani Miglioranzi making a rare start as a deep central defender for the first half.
The visitors silenced the PPL Park crowd in the fifth minute when set piece maestro Brad Davis, the league’s assist leader, hit a long free kick right to the head of Hainault, who put Houston up 1-0.
A little more than a minute later, the Union found their equalizer. And not surprisingly, it came from the foot of their leading goal-scorer Le Toux, who one-timed a left-footed shot past Houston ’keeper Tally Hall after receiving a beautiful chip pass from rookie Michael Farfan.
But the Dynamo retook their lead in the 30th minute when Brian Ching’s nifty through ball found Carr, who stayed onside, burst past the Union backline and slid a shot past Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón.
Houston had chances to extend their lead further, generating good looks on the strength of their long balls, set pieces and ability to win balls in the air. At one point, in the 22nd minute, Le Toux headed a ball off the goal line after a flurry of Dynamo scoring chances following a corner kick.
The Union had their chances, too, forcing Hall into four saves before the break, with the goalkeeper’s two best stops coming on rocket shots from midfielder Brian Carroll and fullback Sheanon Williams.
But heading into the halftime break, Houston held on to their 2-1 lead.
The Union employed a more offensive look in the second half, first pushing Miglioranzi up to the midfield and then subbing him out for striker Jack McInerney.
And the hosts nearly tied the game in the 54th minute when Le Toux’s free kick from just outside the box pinged around the box before Danny Mwanga – making his first start since Sept. 10 – pushed a shot wide. During that scrum, the Union called for a Houston handball in the box but didn’t get one.
Bolstered further by second-half subs Roger Torres and Freddy Adu – both of who had solid long-range attempts that just missed – the Union pushed hard for the equalizer.
Mondragón gave his team a shot at pulling off the comeback with a brilliant save on Davis in the 86th minute, and two minutes later McInerney nearly tied the game when his header hit the crossbar. But, despite their push, Philly’s second goal never game, putting them in a serious hole heading to Houston.
The game was a chippy one from start to finish, with Miglioranzi, Williams, Carroll and Gabriel Farfan all picking up yellow cards for Philly, and Danny Cruz and Adam Moffat being shown yellow for Houston. There was a small scrum in the 40th minute when Moffat shoved Williams after the Union defender’s hard, yellow card-inducing tackle.
The second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series continues Nov. 3 at Robertson Stadium (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes).
HOU -- Andre Hainault 1 (Brad Davis 1) 5
PHI -- Sebastien Le Toux 1 (Michael Farfan 1) 7
HOU -- Calen Carr 1 (Brian Ching 1) 30
PHI -- Gabriel Farfan (caution; Reckless Foul) 4
PHI -- Stefani Miglioranzi (caution; Reckless Tackle) 17
HOU -- Danny Cruz (caution; Reckless Tackle) 27
PHI -- Sheanon Williams (caution; Reckless Foul) 39
HOU -- Adam Moffat (caution; Reckless Tackle) 40
PHI -- Brian Carroll (caution; Tactical Foul) 65
Houston Dynamo -- Tally Hall, Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe, Danny Cruz (Je-Vaughn Watson 64), Adam Moffat, Luiz Camargo, Brad Davis, Calen Carr (Will Bruin 76), Brian Ching (Carlo Costly 71).
Substitutes Not Used: Colin Clark, Hunter Freeman, Jermaine Taylor, Tyler Deric.
Philadelphia Union -- Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan, Michael Farfan, Brian Carroll, Stefani Miglioranzi (Jack McInerney 62), Justin Mapp (Roger Torres 68), Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga (Freddy Adu 76).
Substitutes Not Used: Morgan Langley, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath.
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Referee's Assistants: C.J. Morgante; Corey Rockwell
4th Official: Jasen Anno
Time of Game: 1:54
Weather: Clear and 45 degrees