Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview: Union look to get back on track at Houston

The Union fell to Zlatan and LA Galaxy during torrential downpours last Saturday. Now, Philadelphia heads west to take on a Houston Dynamo team that could cause problems. With the playoffs still in reach, the Union will need to bring all they have to Houston. Our Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview how the Union will look to get back on track at Houston.

Borek Dockal has a strike in the rain vs LA Galaxy.

Jeff Green:

The Philadelphia Union have dug themselves quite a hole.  Not only are they now last in the Eastern Conference in goals scored, they continue to sit below the red line, and Chicago and Orlando City are creeping up from behind.  After  disappointing fans who sat in a downpour during a loss to the L.A. Galaxy Saturday night, the Union now have to venture on the road for three consecutive matches.

The Houston Dynamo also sit below the playoff line but have been in great form lately, are tied for the best goal differential in the Western Conference, and are unbeaten in their past five matches.  And these include games against the top three teams in the West (FC Dallas, LAFC and Sporting Kansas City).  They sport a solid 6-2-2 home record as well as one of the best young attacking duos in MLS.  23 year-old Colombian, Mauro Manotos, and 22 year-old Honduran forward, Alberth Ellis, lead the Dynamo with ten and nine goals respectively.  Ellis is the true star of this club, contributing seven assists as well.  The contrast between Houston and Philly’s striker situation is well, striking.

It’s do-or-die time for Jim Curtin.  There are no excuses left.  There’s no more playing favorites or rewarding guys for a good week of practice.  He has to put out the team that has the best chance of winning on game-day, regardless if Creavalle hustled more than Herbers in the Tuesday morning practice, or whatever high school logic he leans on.  No more subbing in defensive players when you’re trailing late in the game.  It angers me and the rest of the Union faithful that we even need to mention that.

If Ilsinho is healthy, he needs to start on the right.  Yes C.J. scored.  It was a fluke goal and he spent the entire match going down easier than Neymar.  Burke didn’t have a good game to say the least against the Galaxy but it’s clear they are more dangerous with him on the field.  He must start at forward again.  Houston and Portland are still two of the toughest places to win on the road, but the Union must come away from this three game road trip with six points.  But when your talent and your coach are both limited, your hands are already tied going in.

Prediction: Dynamo: 2  Union: 2
Union man of the match: Cory Burke

Matt McClain:

So far in 2018, Philadelphia walked away from a road match with points to show for it just three times out of nine total. If Philadelphia travel away from Chester in 2018, there’s nearly a 70% chance they’ll lose. 66.6% to be exact, but I think the point is clear here. Philadelphia, for consecutive seasons now, have struggled mightily to earn results on the road.

Fans will hope tonight’s match-up at Houston Dynamo will buck that trend.

Houston will compete in their fourth match in just nine days tonight. It will be the sixth match of July for Wilmer Cabrera’s club. They’ll have a seventh this weekend to finish off a busy July.

Which means Philadelphia traveled to Houston at the perfect time so to speak.

However, it’s worth noting that Houston haven’t lost in their last five matches (2-0-3). They also sport a 7-3-2 record at home through all competitions so far this year. And, more striking, Houston hasn’t lost inside BBVA Compass Stadium since March 31st when New England Revolution blanked them 2-0. So maybe it’s not such a perfect situation to play Houston inside their own venue. But they will be tired. That much is known.

Philadelphia enter tonight’s match-up in desperate need of three points. Like Jeff mentioned, Philadelphia fans are growing increasingly restless with the teams lack of wins over the past few weeks. Some are tired of it. Some have been tired of it. Yet, others are still focused on supporting the club in hopes of reaching the playoffs this year.

The Union sit in seventh with 24 points in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. They sit four points below New England, just below the red line. Just below the red line is where Philadelphia have sat for what seems like five years now. Which is why fans are becoming more and more agitated by a lack of wins from Curtin.

So a win against a dangerous offensive team like Houston could swing the momentum not only inside the locker room, but throughout the fan base. Any win is a good thing but there’s something special about a road win. A W away from home is a sure-fire morale booster. To earn that win tonight, Philadelphia will look to prevent Houston from scoring at will. With 37 goals scored through MLS play this year, Houston will look to threaten Philadelphia’s young center back duo all night.

The game will be won in the midfield, as most matches are. Houston’s dynamic play-maker, Romell Quioto, is second in MLS with 11 assists and could be too much to handle for Philadelphia. Houston normally positions three midfielders – with heavily attacking tendencies – just below their striker, Mauro Manotas. Manotas has scored five goals in his last three matches. The top four from Houston is a dangerous group.

I don’t expect many changes to Philadelphia’s starting XI. Nothing worth noting at least. The system in place by Curtin is providing the team with time on the ball in opponents final third. However, the skill and creativity needed to breakdown opponent’s with a final pass, touch, or shot has remained missing. Maybe that has to do with the quality of players on the pitch; maybe it’s a mindset thing, or maybe it’s simply bad luck.

Whatever is haunting Philadelphia’s scoring boots needs to be taken care of soon. Or else Curtin may find his seat becoming increasingly hotter.

Prediction: Dynamo: 1  Union: 2
Union man of the match: Borek Dockal

Tim Lovenguth:

The Union are in a tough spot, but still have everything to play for. While they have been genuinely underwhelming in attack with the caliber of players they have, there is still a chance at success. The recent US Open Cup run is one example of this. Making it to a semifinal is no small feet; it showcases that they have the ability to win when it matters most. However, that hasn’t translated well in to their regular season play.

It seems like in every big game the Union have played in MLS play, they’ve choked. This game at Houston is not a game where they are going up against a world-class star or team, but it is still crucial to the Union’s hopes at backing their way into a playoff spot.

Backing into the six or five seed in the east is the best case scenario at this point looking at Philadelphia’s trajectory. The lack of finishing and defensive lapses from their young defenders won’t help come playoff time. That coupled with a chance at a the US Open Cup trophy does not equal the Union making it past the five seed; in all likelihood it could mean finishing seventh or eighth. What could turn it around would be a quality win on the road at a hard place to play; Houston.

Houston are a fringe team in the western conference right now, but have the qualities to make it to the middle of the playoff pack. They have a well structured attack, and good coaching, but some times lack defensively. This could pay dividend’s for the Union, more specifically Cory Burke.

This game is one where Burke’s tenacity could shine. Should the Union be able to run their high press effectively, than Burke will be able to make the runs/attacking plays needed to find a goal. I see Burke as the key player for the Union’s attack at Houston, should he have another poor showing like last Saturday, or not start the game, then the Union could be in for a hot and frustrating night in Houston.

Prediction: Dynamo: 1  Union: 2
Union Man of the Match: Cory Burke

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Tim Lovenguth

Matt McClain

Jeff Green

Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports