Sunday, October 30, 2011

Union drop first ever playoff game to Houston

By John McMullen

CHESTER (The Phanatic Magazine) - Houston withstood a furious Philadelphia push in the final minutes to earn a 2-1 win in the first of a two-legged aggregate Eastern Conference semifinals set at a chilly PPL Park.

MVP Candidate Sebastien Le Toux  scored the Union's lone goal in the franchise's first ever Major League Soccer playoff game.

Peter Nowak loves to mix and match. In fact, the Union team manager might be MLS' version of Tony La Russa. Sometimes all those moving parts work and sometimes they don't. Tonight, they seemed to breed indecision early costing Philadelphia dearly as it heads to South Texas with the season on the line.

With usual starting forward Veljko Paunovic out with a strained right hamstring Nowak decided to go with defense at midfield, starting Stefani Miglioranzi and using a five-man backline for the majority of the opening

The decision failed to pay dividends as Houston, which caught fire down the stretch, posting a 4-0-2 record in its final six regular season games to claim second place in the East, tilted the pitch for much of the opening half as Philadelphia proved to be very shaky in its own end.

An early yellow card on Gabriel Farfan proved disastrous for the Union when Brad Davis' brilliant set piece found Andre Hainault, who headed it past Faryd Mondragon in the fifth minute to give the Dynamo a 1-0 edge.

Farfan's brother, Michael, had his back seconds later, however, by finding a streaking Le Toux behind the Houston defense. A nifty pass put the ball right on the Frenchman's left foot and the red-hot Le Toux guided it past Tally Hall for his 12th marker in 14 games dating back to the regular season.

Calen Carr took the air out of the building in the 30th minute, sneaking behind Carlos Valdes and slotting it past Mondragon for what proved to be the game-winner.

To show just how out of sorts Philadelphia was in the opening half, three of the its defensive-minded players, Gabe Farfan, Miglioranzi and Sheanon Williams, picked up yellow cards while the Dynamo, which tied Sporting KC for the most goals off set pieces in MLS this season, had four corner kicks to the Union's zero.

Nowak didn't push the panic button at intermission, bringing out the same Starting XI but went to a 3-5-2 attack with Danny Califf and Valdes holding things down on the backline. Crowding the midfield seemed to give the Union more possession time but real scoring chances were rare as most of the whistles coming from referee Jair Marrufo went the Dynamo's way.

Things changed when Nowak finally pulled the plug on Miglioranzi in the 62nd minute, bringing in Jack McInerney to give the Union more firepower. Roger Torres replaced Justin Mapp in the 68th and Freddy Adu spelled Mwanga in the 76th to put two more offensive pieces on the pitch.

It was too little, too late, however, as the Dynamo managed to hold on to their precarious advantage despite of host of Union opportunities.

Torres nearly found the top right-hand corner off a free kick in the 74 minute, Adu blasted a left-footer just over the goal in the 82nd minute and McInerney's header found the crossbar in the waning moments.

The final death throw came in stoppage time when Hall plucked Valdes' header out of the air to send Philadelphia to the Lone Star State down a goal in aggregate.

The second leg of the series is scheduled for next Thursday in South Texas.


*Attendance was 18,539.

*Houston had never beaten Philadelphia before in four regular season matchups over the past two seasons.

*Paunovic started 12 of the last 14 regular season games.

*Mapp was able to go despite struggling with a quad strain.

*While this was the Union's playoff game, six players -- D Danny Califf, MF Brian Carroll, Mapp, Adu, Miglioranzi and Le Toux -- have a combined 27 playoff berths, seven title appearances and five championships.

*Phillies star shortstop Jimmy Rollins was at the game.

Scoring Summary:

HOU -- Andre Hainault 1 (Brad Davis 1) 6
PHI -- Sebastien Le Toux 1 (Michael Farfan 1) 7
HOU -- Calen Carr 1 (Brian Ching 1) 30

Misconduct Summary:

PHI -- Gabriel Farfan (caution; Reckless Foul) 4
PHI -- Stefani Miglioranzi (caution; Reckless Tackle) 17
HOU -- Danny Cruz (caution; Reckless Tackle) 27
PHI -- Sheanon Williams (caution; Reckless Foul) 39
HOU -- Adam Moffat (caution; Reckless Tackle) 40
PHI -- Brian Carroll (caution; Tactical Foul) 65


Houston Dynamo -- Tally Hall, Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe, Danny Cruz (Je-Vaughn Watson 64), Adam Moffat, Luiz Camargo, Brad Davis, Calen Carr (Will Bruin 76), Brian Ching (Carlo Costly 71).
Substitutes Not Used: Colin Clark, Hunter Freeman, Jermaine Taylor, Tyler Deric.

Philadelphia Union -- Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan, Michael Farfan, Brian Carroll, Stefani Miglioranzi (Jack McInerney 62), Justin Mapp (Roger Torres 68), Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga (Freddy Adu 76).
Substitutes Not Used: Morgan Langley, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath.

Referee: Jair Marrufo
Referee's Assistants: C.J. Morgante; Corey Rockwell
4th Official: Jasen Anno
Time of Game: 1:54
Attendance: 18,539
Weather: Clear and 45 degrees

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