Following the Houston Dynamo’s 2-1 win against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Dynamo will hope to take their winning ways with them when they travel to City of Brotherly Love when they take on the Philadelphia Union.
In our preview of the match we discussed the Dynamo’s struggles on the road, but we wanted to know more about our opponents so we spoke with Eugene Rupinski at the Brotherly Game to discuss how the Union have fared this season and what to expect.
Dynamo Theory: The Union were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs last year to MLS Cup runner-up Toronto FC. What have the Union done this offseason to see them improve on last year’s run and what are expectations for how far this team can go?
Brotherly Game: The Union acquired a few players during the offseason to try and plug some serious holes across the board. Bosnian international Haris Medunjanin was brought in to shore up the midfield. Oguchi Onyewu was picked up, Giliano Wijnaldum was brought in from the Netherlands, and Jack Elliott was picked up in the SuperDraft to help fix the leaky defense. Jay Simpson was was acquired from Leyton Orient before their implosion in the English fourth division.
Just because they acquired these players doesn't mean they've been able to help though. Wijnaldum has been a fixture with the USL's Bethlehem Steel FC, only cracking the eighteen once. Simpson has made a handful of starts, however has been backing up CJ Sapong for the majority of the year. Medunjanin has finally developed chemistry with Alejandro Bedoya in the midfield, and both Gooch and Jack have looked solid, however Gooch has shown some fitness issues (he is 34, after all) and Elliott has made some rookie mistakes.
I think expectations now are out the window for this team. When you've gone winless for the better part of nine months, the only expectation you have at a certain point is that you're not going to win. Thankfully the Union have won two straight, but I'd be lying to you if I said that dread wasn't in the back of my mind that "once they stop winning they might not start again."
DT: At 10 points, the Union are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The team got off to a rocky start, but things seem to be looking better as the club has back-to-back wins in May and is unbeaten in 4 games. What has helped turn things around for the Union in recent matches?
BG: I asked that question to Jim Curtin in his weekly press conference, and he credited a few different things. The Union's ability to play as a compact unit when defending - no more than 30 yards front to back - and guys getting pressure on the ball and forcing opponents into mistakes.
I agree with those and would also throw in that breaks have started to go the Union's way and that has bolstered confidence. I'm not one to wantonly blame the referees every time something goes awry, but I will say that the Union got some very favorable calls against D.C. United on Saturday. When you're winning, those things help boost your belief in yourself and your team just as if you're losing, those calls going the other way only amplify the doubt and despair.
I also think you're seeing guys finally settle into their roles. Haris Medunjanin is defending, which is critical to get from your number 6. He and Alejandro Bedoya are developing chemistry. CJ Sapong is getting in rhythm with the team. While there are still huge needs and issues to work out, you're seeing a team that's much improved over the one at the end of last year and beginning of this year.
DT: Midweek games are never fun for players or managers. What adjustments could we see to Jim Curtin’s side?
BG: I would not expect many adjustments from the Union. I'm sure to have a different answer when I talk to the folks at Burgundy Wave about the match on Saturday, but I think the Union will look to have the same lineup as they did against D.C. The only difference will probably be tactical, with guys looking to transition from offense to defense faster to try and counter Houston's speed. They'll have to also work to have guys back at all times marking Cubo. Bedoya and Medunjanin will absolutely have to keep the conversation going to make sure someone gets back to help the center backs.
Injuries, Suspensions, etc: Josh Yaro - Out (recovery from shoulder surgery), Maurice Edu - Out (broken leg), Brian Carroll - Out (lumbar disc herniation), Roland Alberg - Doubtful (left quad strain)
No suspensions, no one close on accumulations
Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty are with the US U20s for the U20 World Cup
Projected Lineup: Andre Blake; Fabinho, Oguchi Onyewu, Jack Elliott, Ray Gaddis; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya; Fafa Picault, Ilson Jr., Chris Pontius; CJ Sapong
For my answers to Eugene’s excellent questions, please check them out at the Brotherly Game!