The Houston Dynamo will take on the Philadelphia Union tonight in what most of us are dubbing a must win game. As the end of the year draws nearer, the desperation for points to pull off a playoff run becomes more and more important - especially against conference opponents. Naturally, we wanted to get to know the other team (the Union) so we asked Eugene Rupinski of SB Nation's Philadelphia Union blog, Brotherly Game, three questions for insight ahead of the big game.
DT: The Union has managed to only make the playoffs once in their short
history in MLS. Currently, you're holding onto the final playoff spot
in a very close Eastern Conference. What makes this Philadelphia team
stand out from other Philadelphia teams in the past which could see
them advance in the playoffs?
The Brotherly Game: This Union team is far more talented than the 2011 team that was quickly shown the door in the playoffs by the Dynamo and seems to be playing with a confidence that I've never seen in the previous four seasons. The team has improved across the board, with the new players being much better than those they replaced and the guys who were there getting more experience under their belts. This is a club that believes that they are capable of beating anyone at any time, and I think we saw some of that when they gutted out the win on Tuesday against FC Dallas in Dallas - a team they'd never beaten before.
DT: The Union had a US Open Cup game in Dallas on Tuesday and then must
complete the Texas road trip this Friday here in Houston. It's pretty
hot here (as if anyone didn't already know) so what kind of tactical
adjustments could we see if any?
tBG: Rest is the key for the Union. I think you'll see a patchwork lineup that will allow some guys to get rested up. A guy like Conor Casey who is on the wrong side of 30 and plays a very physical style might sit in favor of a Brian Brown or Aaron Wheeler just to allow his body to heal. I do know that the Union is staying in Texas until after the match to cut down on travel, which should help some.
That being said I think tactically the Union will look to do what they've done since Jim Curtin took over - allow the opponents possession and look to hit them on the counterattack. This style of play allows for a team in the middle of a congested schedule to still play that style because it doesn't rely solely on being the fastest or whatever.
DT: Lastly, if you were Dominic Kinnear, how would you get the team
ready to defend against one of the best offensive teams in the league
and how would you prepare the team to get goals of their own?
tBG: I would tell the team to watch for the counter. They should expect to dominate possession, but don't let that lull them into a false sense of security. All it takes is a split-second and then boom, MacMath caught everyone napping on a quick goal kick and hit an in-stride Le Toux who'll put it past the keeper (just like he did on Saturday against Montreal).
Scoring first is crucial. If the Union can score first they can park the bus, and barring a break-down, will turn the game into a slog. If Houston scores first it will force the Union out of their shell and they'll be even more susceptible to mistakes.
Last I'd say to look at the lineup to see who to exploit. You're probably going to be up against some guys that don't get much in the way of first team minutes. Look to take advantage of guys like Fred or Austin Berry or Fabinho who are mostly use in a substitute role. There are reasons they're not regular first team guys.
Predicted lineup: MacMath; Fabinho, Berry, Valdés, Williams; Okugo, Fred, Maidana, Cruz; Wheeler, Brown
Predicted score: 1-1 draw. I think this meat grinder of a week will have taken a toll on the Union and they'll come out a bit flat but will be able to hang on for a draw.
For my responses to Eugene Rupinski's questions feel free to head on over to the Brotherly Game website and check them out. As always, please be respectful and as polite as possible when visiting other blogs.