MLS Cup Playoffs: Match #36 Preview: Philadelphia Union At Houston Dynamo

HOUSTON - MARCH 19: Danny Califf #4 of the Philadelphia Union celebrates with Sheanon Williams after scoring in the first half against the Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium on March 19, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Setting: Thursday, November 2 at Robertson Stadium in Houston; kickoff scheduled for 8:45:00 PM Eastern

Broadcast Information: ESPN2, ESPN3.com, ESPN Deportes (Richard Mendez, Giovanni Savarese) and ESPN Deportes Radio (Jorge Ramos, Hernan Pereyra) nationwide, with coverage beginning at 8:30 PM Eastern / SportsTalk 790 KBME-AM (Jonathan Yardley) and La Ranchera 850 KEYH-AM (Daniel Mejia, Alex Parra) in Houston / TSN2 nationwide in Canada (ESPN2 feed)

Series Information: Houston leads the series 2-1 on aggregate

For the Houston Perspective, Visit Dynamo Theory

After what can only be described as a disappointing performance from the Philadelphia Union in their playoff opener, with plenty of blame to go around to both players and coaches, anything less than a gutsy performance in this series concluder will see Philadelphia's season end the same place it started: Robertson Stadium in Houston. If, come full time tomorrow night, the Union are tied or trailing to Houston, it will be the Dynamo who advance to the Eastern Conference final. With a one goal advantage, Philadelphia can force extra time and perhaps even penalty kicks to decide the series. Should the Union manage to take tomorrow night's match by two or more goals, it will remarkably be them moving on. The odds are undoubtedly against them, but it's not necessarily an impossible task.

Yes, it's true that the Union have won both matches they have played in Houston in their two-year history by a goal apiece. But that's far from a telling statistic. What may play more to Philadelphia's advantage (or disadvantage) is that team manager Piotr Nowak will be all but forced to play his best offensive lineup, even if it means losing some defensive prowess in the process. The Union have nothing to lose at this point; they're already in a hole. There's no difference now between giving up two goals in your best attempt to score three, and giving up no goals in an attempt to hold the opposition and maybe pop in one yourself. You're eliminated either way. So the Union will, tactically, go right at Houston from first kick.

There is no reason for Roger Torres and Freddy Adu to not start. There's no reason not to go all out late in the match and move to three in the back if you have to. Even before a potential desperation situation, these changes probably mean that the Union backline will have another very busy night, and Gabriel Farfan in particular will need to have a bounce back performance. The availability of Veljko Paunovic, who one has to expect will start, has apparently recovered enough from a hamstring strain to play, will help the flow of the Union's offense. Truth be told, in the two matches the Union have played in his absence (at New York and vs. Houston), the team hasn't looked the same, and Paunovic's return might be what gives Union fans the most hope heading into tomorrow night.

Projected starters, up-to-date injury reports and assorted match notes after the jump...

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: Mondragon (C); G. Farfan, Califf, Valdes, Williams; Carroll; Mapp, Adu, Torres; Paunovic, Le Toux

Houston: Hall; Hainault, Boswell, Cameron, Ashe; Cruz, Moffat, Camargo, Davis; Ching, Carr

Injury updates:

For Philadelphia, Thorne Holder (concussion) and Levi Houapeu (left ankle strain) remain out. Michael Farfan (right quad contusion) and Veljko Paunovic (right hamstring strain) are "questionable", while Justin Mapp (left quad strain) is considered "probable".

For Houston, Cam Weaver remains unavailable with a right hip issue.

Of note:

  • Ricardo Salazar will be tomorrow's match referee. In 143 career MLS matches, Salazar has called an average of 27 fouls per match, given an average of between three and four yellow cards per match, handed out a total of 42 red cards and has awarded a total of 54 penalty kicks.
  • This is the first two-leg series in the Dynamo's five all-time series that they've won the first leg. Sunday was also the Dynamo's first-ever road playoff win.
  • Tally Hall was credited with ten saves in Sunday's match, just two shy of the MLS playoff record held by Dallas' Mark Dodd (1996) and Joe Cannon when he was with Colorado in 2005.
  • The Union's first-ever road victory came in Houston in comeback 3-2 fashion, so there's that.

The Union look to pull off an upset while Houston looks to calmly take care of business and put Philadelphia down en route to an Eastern Conference final berth. If you're going to Robertson Stadium tomorrow night, have fun, and if you're not, we hope you can join us for a gamethread!

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