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Match Preview – Philadelphia Union vs. Houston Dynamo

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After a most unsavory defeat in North Jersey, Philadelphia returns home to battle a Houston Dynamo side that is having troubles of their own.

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In what has suddenly become a dismal start of the season for the Philadelphia Union, they face a team in a similar situation in the Houston Dynamo. Having lost three matches straight, Houston comes to town to face a Philadelphia team that has lost twice and drawn thrice since their only win in match day two of the season.

What to Expect from the Philadelphia Union:

Having acquired four points in their first two games, the Philadelphia Union have looked rather dismal in their five matches since. Losing in efforts to Columbus and most recently New York, the Union found themselves down 2-0 before scoring consolation goals in each to make the match a close affair in the late stages. All of those goals against were the result of mental lapses of an undisciplined team, and weren't the case of being dominated by better teams.

Those results bookend three straight draws against Montreal, Chicago, and Real Salt Lake. A five match winless streak after such a promising start has the Union Head Coach John Hackworth "baffled" according to his post-game presser Wednesday night after falling to the Red Bulls. The Union will certainly need to regroup and come out strong against a team also faltering, or the proverbial pitchforks and torches may be busted out by the Union faithful.

Hackworth put out a line-up on Wednesday against New York that only could have meant he was resting some starters with the focus of the week being the weekend home tilt against Houston. With Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams, and Austin Berry all on the bench for this game, I would expect the trio to resume their starting roles come Saturday afternoon. Hackworth mentioned that rookie goalkeeper Andre Blake could make his Union debut sometime this week and I think there is certainly a chance the Number One overall pick in this year's MLS SuperDraft does just that.

Regardless of the lineup put out, the Union need to showcase they're capable of putting together a complete performance. Too many times already this season the Union have broken down defensively on their own accord, and if it goes on another game it may spell the beginning of the end for Hackworth. The FO has spent too much money this offseason to have it go up in flames. I think first in line to become scapegoat, whatever the problems may actually be, is Hackworth.

If the Union players have any motivation to play under Hackworth left, they'll make sure to get up for this game. If not, expect a long day at PPL Park.

What to Expect from the Houston Dynamo:

Since its move from San Jose in 2006, Houston has been one of the most successful MLS franchises having won two MLS Cups and were runners-up in two more. In the Union's first two seasons, they dominated the Dynamo - winning twice and drawing twice - with surprisingly both wins coming on the road. Since the 2011 playoff matchup however, the Dynamo have won six of the last seven against the Union. Remarkably still, the Dynamo have only lost to the Union once inside the confines of PPL Park.

The recent struggles against Houston are mainly attributed to the Union's issues in dealing with height and set piece defense, a Houston Dynamo specialty. Of the Houston Dynamo's fifteen goals scored against Philadelphia, six were from set pieces, with two coming in the playoff series in 2011. It's something the Union have become notorious for conceding, so it's something to almost be expected that the Union will concede against Houston.

Things are not all swell in Dynamo country, despite winning their first two games. Since shredding New England in their home opener and scraping by Montreal, the Dynamo have lost their last 3 games to Vancouver, FC Dallas, and at New England. Questionable penalty calls against Vancouver and Dallas didn't help Houston's cause, and neither did a horrible referee decision that saw David Horst ejected against Dallas, but serious defensive mental lapses and ball-watching might have cost them more (sound familiar?).

Houston's defensive let downs and unlucky circumstances in recent weeks have left them feeling a bit demoralized, but with David Horst returning from a suspension look for the defense to be bolstered and a little hope restored. The Dynamo need to rally around the play of Boniek Garcia, a smooth Honduras international, if they are to pull out a result. Watch for him to become the leader of this Houston side with the absence of free kick specialist Brad Davis.

Prediction:

I'm convinced Philadelphia needs to win this game. Maybe not to save the season, but just to save my sanity. Houston have done a terrific job against Philadelphia in the last few seasons and I expect much of the same. Although Brad Davis is not playing, per reports from Dynamo play-by-play guy Glenn Davis, I fully expect the Dynamo to give the U a tough time.

I think the Union will do what they have typically done this season, draw. 1-1 with another disappointing result.