FINAL WHISTLE: A fight to the end

Ninety minutes of all-out effort ended in a night to forget as Philadelphia Union fell 3-0 to Houston Dynamo in the 2018 US Open Cup final in Houston on Wednesday night. The Union worked to penetrate a deep-lying Houston defense, but after an early goal from the home side, chances were hard to find. Philly now turns their focus to a likely playoff run after a fighting their way to a third final in five seasons.

Early goal changes complexion of the game

As a purely counterattacking side, the Dynamo benefited from being able to sit back after going ahead in the fourth minute. Houston’s elite speed on the wings opened the game up and after that the home side could hold bodies in the center and push into spaces the Union abandoned when they tried to get forward.

The Union had three of five shots blocked in the first half as the Dynamo protected the dangerous areas of the pitch.

As they did the last time these teams met, Houston worked to force Borek Dockal out of his preferred central areas, and time and again they succeeded. Although the Union controlled possession, they did not threaten the final third often enough, and heading into halftime they had a mountain to climb.

Rough treatment

The Dynamo collected more fouls in each half than the Union conceded all match. CJ Sapong was knocked over six times, and neither Houston player with four fouls was carded. Although this likely did not change the outcome of the game, it shows that the home side came in with a clear plan to disrupt Philly’s passing game by seeing how much they could get away with. The answer? A lot.

A fight to the end

Over the past few weeks, Jim Curtin has often said how much he loves this team and the work rate they bring to each practice and each match. Despite a rough loss, that effort cannot be questioned. Led by Fafa Picault and supported by Haris Medunjanin and Auston Trusty, Philly continued to push forward down two goals, and it took an unlucky moment for Trusty to put the match out of reach. Prior to that own-goal, the Union had out-shot Houston 6-2 in the second half and four shots (three in the box) in the previous five minutes.

When a counterattacking team gets an early lead, they retreat and defend their box. Even without elite defenders, Houston has continually shown an ability to protect their box this season, giving up the fourth fewest goals in the Western Conference. That defensive discipline was crucial in holding off the Union.

Philly returns to action this Saturday when they look to leapfrog Columbus Crew into fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. By holding on to fourth place (or higher), the Union could bring a playoff game to Philadelphia this season.

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