Union head for Houston, down by a goal

Posted: October 31, 2011

Too bad for the Union this isn't a two-game, aggregate-possession series with the Houston Dynamo in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semifinals.

No, it's aggregate goal, which means the Union will start the second game down a goal after suffering a 2-1 loss to the Dynamo in the first leg of this series on Sunday at PPL Park in Chester. The series resumes, and concludes, Thursday in Houston.

The Union did everything but get the equalizer, which has been a recurring story in the two-year history of the franchise.

It's interesting that the Union had Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins as an honorary captain, because too many times they were trying for the home run, going for the long ball, and frequently got gobbled up by the physical Houston defense.

By the way, too bad the Phillies didn't play an aggregate-run National League division series with the world champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies would have won, 21-19.

That probably doesn't make Phillies fans feel much better.

And even though the Union were much better than the Dynamo in the second half and more than held their own in the first, they can't be feeling good about the result.

At least the Union went down fighting, hitting the cross bar in the 88th minute on a Jack McInerney header, the best of the non-cashed-in chances.

The pressure, at least in the second half, was constant.

In fact, when Houston coach Dominic Kinnear was asked if his team was consciously sitting back in the second half with the lead, he had a simple answer: "No."

It sure seemed that way.

Houston appeared back on its heels and didn't attack much, although Union goalie Faryd Mondragon had to make a nice save in the 86th minute on a semi-breakaway shot from 14 yards out by Brad Davis keep the deficit at one. That save could prove huge in this series if the Union get back into it.

The Union tried something out of character, using a five-man defense, employing Stefani Miglioranzi as a third central defender.

The fact that they were trailing, 2-1, at halftime isn't an overwhelming vote of confidence for that formation.

"It was a little more difficult, but the strategy was to play to our strength, going on the attack," Miglioranzi said.

No doubt there will be Monday-morning-quarterbacking on the formation and why it took so long to get Freddy Adu and Roger Torres into the lineup. Torres entered in the 68th minute and Adu in the 76th minute.

Both, not known as defensive stalwarts, brought plenty of energy to the attack.

"The substitutions brought us life, but you have to be ready to challenge the other team no matter what," team manager Peter Nowak said.

After the game, Nowak and his players showed no outward concern about being down a goal with 90 minutes to go.

"I said from the beginning that we have nothing to lose," Nowak said.

Other than the series, that is.

"If we had finished our chances, we could have won this game," Union defender Sheanon Williams said.

That quote could have been used in several other games this year.

Now there are so many questions awaiting Nowak and the Union. Do they employ an all-out attack from the beginning? Will Adu and Torres start? Will the five-defender setup be scrapped?

Yet the one question they need to answer is how to cash in on scoring chances. Anything less and this will be an aggregate disaster.

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

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