Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak’s decision to come out with a five-man defense in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday seemed odd for a team playing at home. Except, apparently, to the Houston Dynamo.
“I think we knew what we were coming into,” said Brad Davis, who assisted on the first goal of a 2-1 win. “I think we knew they would be a counterattacking team and that they would sit back, try to defend, and then throw numbers forward. And that is exactly what they did.”
It suited Houston just fine. The Dynamo took advantage of the space in front of the Union defense from the outset, controlling possession and pumping dangerous balls toward goal.
“You have to see how the game is going and play the way you want to play,” Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear said after the game. “I think we had some good possession in the wide areas. I just thought our movement on the ball and off the ball was very good."
While it was Houston’s attack that gave the Dynamo a first-half lead, their defense and goalkeeper Tally Hall preserved the win.
“It was a tale of two halves I thought," Kinnear said. "We dominated possession in the first half, and in the second half it was flip-flopped."
After taking five shots and looking to counter in the first half, the Union pushed upfield and looked to pressure the Dynamo back line in the second. Philadelphia took 18 shots in the second half, six of which were on target. Hall and the defense were up to the challenge. The All-Star goalkeeper tied a club record with 10 saves, six of which came in the second half. If it wasn’t Hall saving shots, it was the defense making sure that the Union never got the chance.
“At the end, Tally made some good saves, and we got a little help from the crossbar and some last-ditch defending," Kinnear said.
No rest for the weary
The Dynamo have little time to reflect on their win. The team returned to Houston on Monday and will have just two training sessions before Thursday’s second-leg clash at Robertson Stadium (get tickets now). The short window puts preparation and rejuvenation at a premium.
“We have to get back to Houston and get ready and focus, because they can score goals, and we’ll have to do our best to protect our home field,” striker Calen Carr said.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.