The Houston Dynamo are hoping to rebound at home following a tough night in MLS action last weekend. The Dynamo led the Portland Timbers 2-0, but succumbed to their old ways in which they allowed their opponents back into the game for their eventual win. In the game the Dynamo showed plenty of promise, fight, and confidence, but as they sat in and their lead evaporated into the 3-2 loss, many fans were left upset with the overall effort.
Tonight, the Dynamo face the top team in the Eastern Conference the Philadelphia Union. Both clubs had Open Cup matches earlier this week which means tired legs and lineup choices could decide the game. The Union have been one of the many surprises in this season and should prove a challenge for our struggling Dynamo who haven't won a league match in 5 straight games. A win over a top team like the Union would provide plenty of confidence to the club moving forward.
In our preview of the match we discussed the personnel of the Union, but we wanted to know more from our opponent so we spoke with Eugene Rupinski to talk about what's happening with the 1st place team in the East, the Union.
Dynamo Theory: After finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference and 18th overall last season, the Philadelphia Union seem to have really turned things around as they currently sit in the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Coming into the year, is this where you realistically saw the team at and what's contributed to their success?
Brotherly Game: Definitely not! We were hoping for some improvement, with the idea of the Union making the playoffs as a 6th seed as being a realistic goal for the club. That they are in first place in the East going into July is far better than even the most optimistic fan could have hoped for.
Most of that turnaround can be placed squarely on Earnie Stewart, who came in as the Union's Director of Soccer late last year. Stewart has taken the model he used to a great degree of success in the Netherlands and brought it to Philadelphia. The idea of spending smart and investing in young talent has paid off in spades. The biggest offseason acquisition was Chris Pontius, who has a long track record in MLS but isn't a splashy signing like a Giovani dos Santos or Ashley Cole. Pontius has revitalized his career this year, and singlehandedly won the U.S. Open Cup match against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday. On the youth side, the Union picked up Keegan Rosenberry and Joshua Yaro in the SuperDraft, both of which have seen significant playing time this season for the Union.
DT: Like the Dynamo, the Union are coming off a midweek US Open Cup match. What kind of adjustments will Head Coach Jim Curtin make to account for the midweek matchup?
BG: I think you'll see some rotation of personnel from the lineup used against the Red Bulls, but not much. Ray Gaddis may replace Fabinho at left back just to give the 31 year old a breather. Brian Carroll was a sub in the USOC match, but may start in place of Warren Creavalle to keep both guys in the rotation. The biggest adjustment will be up top I would imagine. Sebastien Le Toux started at striker - a position he hasn't played in a few years. This was due to CJ Sapong still recovering from an ankle injury and Fabian Herbers being kept out due to a hamstring issue. It remains to be seen if Sapong will be fit enough to play or if Herbers hamstring heals quickly enough to play against Houston. If both men are unable to go, look for Le Toux to reprise his role up top with Ilsinho taking his usual place at right wing.
DT: For Dynamo fans that aren't too familiar with the Union personnel, who are some players to keep an eye on?
BG: Andre Blake has been lights out at goalkeeper this year. Yeah the Union's goalkeeper situation used to be the butt of many a joke, but Blake has been the best goalkeeper in MLS this season and was the best player on Jamaica during the Copa America. Keegan Rosenberry is a rookie right back that came up through the Union's Academy but was unable to sign a Homegrown Player contract for some reason so the Union drafted him anyway. He's played every minute of every game and is currently fourth in All-Star Fan balloting. Tranquillo Barnetta is the heart of the Union's offense - the Swiss international is probably best known for this free kick against Orlando City.
Pairing with him in the midfield is Roland Alberg, who exploded onto the scene this month with six goals in four games. Alberg had been a bench option, but with the sudden departure of Vincent Nogueira, Alberg has been a force on both sides of the ball.
Projected Lineup: Andre Blake; Ray Gaddis, Richie Marquez, Josh Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry; Brian Carroll, Tranquillo Barnetta; Chris Pontius, Roland Alberg, Ilsinho; Sebastien Le Toux
For my answers to Eugene's excellent questions, check them out at the Brotherly Game!