CHESTER, Pa. – The Union are heading on a business trip with one objective: extend their season.
They’ve played twice in Houston before. They’ve won both times.
Collectively, the Union absolutely believe they can do it a third time. The circumstances are a bit murkier this time with the aggregate goal system in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
If the Union manage a 1-0 victory Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes) at Robertson Stadium – or win by any one-goal margin – they’ll force a pair of 15-minute overtime periods, followed by penalty kicks if the score is still level. A win by two goals or more would put Philadelphia through to the Conference Championship, while a loss or draw would end the club's sophomore season.
“We’ve had success at Houston and we know what we have to do,” said forward Jack McInerney. “It’s a different situation in the playoffs, but sure, knowing we’ve done it before helps our confidence."
Danny’s Califf fifth-minute goal held up as a game-winner in a 1-0 victory March 19 at Houston in the season opener. On May 29 last year, Danny Mwanga’s 90th-minute goal was the difference in a 3-2 comeback win, the first road victory in franchise history.
Both were quite a long time ago.
Yet the memory is still fresh.
“We know we can win there, and we have in the last two seasons,” said Califf. “While we’re down after the first leg, we’re still a confident group that we can go there, get the job done and win the match. We’d obviously like to win 2-0 and move on. If not, we’ll take a one-goal advantage with overtime and see what happens.
“We’re alive in this series. We have to execute our plan and if we do, we’re confident in the results that can come.”
Going on the road will be a challenge for this young Philadelphia squad. But they’ve come such a long way in two short seasons that they’re viewing this match as just another step.
The Union realize they can win in Houston.
“I know it,” forward Sebastien Le Toux told philadelphiaunion.com. “We’ve shown we can do it. We feel like we made a few mistakes [Sunday]. We will make some corrections and come out strong. I think we’re very confident in our ability to win the match. Let’s go to Houston and see what happens. We can do this.”
With a one-goal aggregate lead, one might expect the Dynamo to come out a bit more defensive-minded. Yet that's not the tune they're singing.
“We have to take that second half as a warning,” said Houston forward Brian Ching. “They have talent and if we don’t take that into account, then we’re asking for trouble. We definitely have that on our minds and we’re looking to come out and attack a lot more than we did in the second half.”
MVP candidate Brad Davis agrees.
“We don’t want to just sit back and defend a 2-1 lead," he said. "We’re going to try and score goals and try and win. With that said, it’s tough to know what we’re going to do until we’re in the position. If it’s late in the game where we have that one-goal lead, we have to be mindful of how many guys we’re sending forward and playing disciplined. But going in we’re going to start the game like we always do and try and win it.”
As will the Union, who know they face an uphill climb. Their mission is simple: win or wait until next season.
“The next game will be tough, and we expect it to be tough,” midfielder Brian Carroll told philadelphiaunion.com. “We have to stick within our plan, do what we do, play as hard as we possibly can, and hopefully the result will come back in a very positive way.”