You can tell the Houston Dynamo have had an entire week to prepare for the Philadelphia Union ahead the first leg of Eastern Conference Semifinal on Sunday night. When asked about the Union, every Dynamo player has been singing from the same song sheet when it comes to Philly’s chief strength: defensive organization.
“We expect a physical game where they defend extremely well,” Houston forward Brian Ching told MLSsoccer.com after the Dynamo's final practice session on Saturday. “You look at our past couple of games, and they’ve been pretty low-scoring. … They’re a team that knows how to defend a lead, and that’s something we’re going to have to be careful of and go out there and try to take advantage of our possession.”
It has become evident in the comments of players from both sides that despite the Union’s home-field advantage in the first leg at PPL Park, all signs point to Houston dictating the play and the Union seeking to punish the visitors on the break. In August's match against the Union at PPL, the Dynamo owned the edge in ball possession with 58.6 percent. In their first meeting in March, Houston had almost 65 percent of possession.
“We’ll be able to counter and get some goals,” Philadelphia midfielder Michael Farfan said. “We have a really solid defense, and we can shut out teams pretty well. We’ll have opportunities to score, and we just need to capitalize on that.”
Dynamo central defender Geoff Cameron, who netted the lone Houston goal against Philadelphia this season on a long-distance shot, sees it the same way.
“Our idea is to go out there and possess the ball, create a lot of opportunities, and I think we’ve been doing that in the last four or five games," he said. "In case they counterattack, we’ll be ready to control them.”
Houston is expected to lean on veteran forwards Ching and Carlo Costly to break the Union’s defensive resistance, but the pair of strikers will have their hands full against one of the stingiest center back pairings in MLS in Philadelphia’s Carlos Valdés and Danny Califf, who Ching points out “likes to prevent you from making runs off the ball at times.”
Costly recalls that it was Valdés who was marking him when he made his MLS league debut on August 6 with 29 minutes left against the Union at PPL Park.
“They’re very organized in the back, and they don’t let guys get the ball,” Costly said. “They mark very tightly. Tomorrow won’t be the exception. It’s going to be complicated, and we have to take advantage of the chances that fall to us to score goals.”
Said Ching, “It’s a matchup in which we think we have the potential to move forward. But it’s definitely going to be a tough team.”