Up next for the Philadelphia Union is a home test against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday (4 p.m., purchase tickets), a team that like the Union is looking to get itself back to the high roller table of MLS elite.
You can’t look at the Dynamo’s recent form and say that this is a team that won’t be there late in the season. For years, Houston’s M.O. has been to above all odds find itself in the thick of not just the MLS playoff race, but chasing an MLS Cup title. What the Union can take from the Dynamo’s past few matches is that this is a club that has yet to find its groove. A team that likes to play close quartered attacking soccer will have to modify plans a bit courtesy of the expansive playing surface that PPL Park will provide. Houston has found success at PPL Park before, but it’s never come easy.
Houston is 4-3-2 all-time against Philadelphia, taking three points in both matches played last season by second half daggers from midfielder Ricardo Clark.
Expect Clark to be in the mix of head coach Dominic Kinnear’s group on Saturday. Here’s a look at some other players to hone in on.
Kinnear has always found the Dynamo success sticking with the 4-4-2 formation, traditionally pairing big bodied strikers with quick guys that can get in behind. Will Bruin (the big body) leads the club with three goals this season, all arriving in the club’s home opener against New England. Bruin is paired with fellow striker Giles Barnes (speedster that can work his way behind the defense) still seeks his first of the season.
In behind those two, Houston has a host of talented midfielders headlined by the tenacity of Clark, who has a penchant to push high and become the three headed spear of Houston’s attack in addition to Boniek Garcia. The two always seem to put themselves in the right place and are quite possibly the two it will be incumbent on the Union defense to keep wraps on the whole time. Though listed as doubtful with a right ankle sprain, fans could very well see Brad Davis return to the lineup tomorrow as well. Rounding out the midfield corps on the outside is Tony Cascio and Andrew Driver.
Graphic: A look at Houston's potential starting lineup and formation this Saturday.
Houston’s back line is big, but there are holes and lanes all over to exploit. Goalkeeper Tally Hall is still soild as the last line of defense, but enters the match with a 1.60 goals against average over a five game MLS span. Corey Ashe lines up at left back, but will stretch the pitch at times with deep overlapping runs to create chances with crosses into the 18-yard-box. Rookie center back A.J. Cochran appeared twice this season and at six-foot, three-inches proves a menace in the air alongside Jamaican international Jermaine Taylor. Finally, expect Houston mainstay Kofi Sarkodie to have one of his trademark days at right back. Sarkodie, in many ways is like the Union’s Sheanon Williams, who is really good at playing the angles and comes in hard to win tackles.
In its past few matches, Houston has lacked the ability to create chances on goal. It’s a recognizable problem, but one that the Union will need to exploit by frustrating the Dynamo early defensively. Much like what New England was successful in doing, if they can ensure Houston finds it hard to find a rhythm, anything is possible – including three points to round out a demanding week.
“You have to keep things in perspective,” Kinnear said recently. “Have things been going good? Absolutely not, and we understand that. On the other side of it, if we put a couple of wins together we’ll be right back on top. Reality is always a good reminder of what’s around you and I think we’ve experienced a lot to know that five games in we’re not out of the chase.”
Potential Houston Starting XI: Hall, Ashe, Cochran, Taylor, Sarkodie, Davis, Clark, Garcia, Cascio, Bruin, Barnes
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org