Union, Houston Dynamo both seeking MLS redemption

Posted: March 19, 2011

When the Union open their second Major League Soccer season Saturday in Houston against the Dynamo, it will be a game matching two teams looking for significant improvement.

The Union were 8-15-7 last season and Houston, a two-time MLS champion in 2006 and 2007, slumped to 9-15-6.

Each is expected to contend for one of the 10 playoff berths in the 18-team MLS. Even last year, the Union remained mathematically in the playoff hunt until late in the season.

"You could see the youngsters were not experienced to handle the pressure, and we tried to warn them about it and calm them down," team manager Peter Nowak said. "This year, we have a more experienced group and they can handle the pressure with no problem."

Last year Nowak rarely talked about the playoffs, but he is openly discussing the topic now. "We wish to be a contender for the playoffs, but nobody knows how this will be . . . we need a good start," he said.

Houston feels the same way. The Dynamo played a lot this preseason and counting scrimmages with college teams, went 8-1-3.

"We have a lot of new players, and this helped us see where we stood," said Houston coach Dominic Kinnear. "I think it's been a good preseason, but we'll see how things go on Saturday against a very good Philadelphia team."

The Dynamo could be without standout forward Brian Ching, who is listed as doubtful with a hamstring strain. Kinnear wouldn't comment on Ching's playing status.

The Union's all-star forward Sebastien Le Toux is listed as probable with an ankle sprain.

One interesting subplot is the renewal of the rivalry between new Union forward Carlos Ruiz and the Dynamo. Ruiz has returned to MLS after two seasons playing abroad, and he competed two seasons against Houston in 2006-07 as a member of FC Dallas. "Those were emotional games," Ruiz said.

According to the Dynamo public relations staff, Ruiz scored three goals in nine games against Houston including the playoffs. He also committed 30 fouls and drew 21. Ruiz was assessed five yellow cards and one red card against the Dynamo.

"He is a great scorer and we have had some good battles with him," Kinnear said.

Two MLS SuperDraft picks, defender Kofi Sarkodie and forward Will Bruin, are among the 10 new players Houston has added since last year.

The Union earned their first road win in franchise history at Houston with a 3-2 decision on May 29 at Robertson Stadium. They can only hope it won't take more than two months to get their first road win this season.

Trio signed. Three players who had been training with the Union during the preseason were signed on Friday: midfielders Keon Daniel and Gabriel Farfan, and forward Levi Houapeu.

Of the three, Daniel could have the more immediate impact. The 24-year-old native of Trinidad and Tobago moves over from the Puerto Rico Islanders of the North American Soccer League.

Farfan is the twin brother of Union draft choice Michael Farfan and arrives from the Mexican first-division team Club America. Houapeu was the Union's third-round selection (41st overall) in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.


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