Philly Union out to make history

Mattheus Schaper jumps for joy after George Washington defeated Northeast, 2-1, to win the Public League boys AAA soccer championship last night at Northeast. The Eagles will meet the winner of this afternoon's Catholic League title match between La Salle and Father Judge for the District 12 crown tomorrow night, also at Northeast High.
Mattheus Schaper jumps for joy after George Washington defeated Northeast, 2-1, to win the Public League boys AAA soccer championship last night at Northeast. The Eagles will meet the winner of this afternoon's Catholic League title match between La Salle and Father Judge for the District 12 crown tomorrow night, also at Northeast High. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: November 02, 2011

IT'S HAPPENED.

Not often, but it has happened.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only seven teams have advanced after losing the first leg in the 16-year-history of the MLS playoffs.

Of those seven, just two have advanced after losing the first leg at home: Colorado knocked off FC Dallas in 2006 and just last year, San Jose battled back from a 1-0 deficit in the first leg to win, 3-1, at Red Bull Arena in the second, sneaking past RBNY on aggregate, 3-2.

The Union finds itself in a similar predicament, down 2-1 to Houston in the two-leg conference semifinal aggregate series after dropping the first leg at home on Sunday. Tomorrow, the Union will look to square the series (8:30 p.m., ESPN2) and just one goal can do so. Two goals better than the Dynamo after the final whistle and the club will add its name to a historically near-impossible statistic.

"I think we are actually carrying a lot of positives into this next game," said defender Danny Califf. "We're fit for the most part and now we know what to expect. If you look at [Sunday's game], we created tons of chances in the second half. We could of tied it up certainly, if not gotten ahead. All we have to do is go there, score, and then the game is on level terms."

If aspirations of "DOOPing to the Cup" still exist, the Union will certainly need to push numbers forward. In Sunday's match, the Union did that with the second-half inclusion of midfielders Freddy Adu and Roger Torres and forward Jack McInerney, and a return to a modified 4-3-3 formation. But while it allowed for a pulse-pounding final half, it didn't amount to any goals, a stat the Union knows it needs to correct.

"We had a lot of chances and I thought that . . . if we had finished our chances, we could have won [Sunday's] game," said defender Sheanon Williams. "You want to be smart. It's a two-game series. We were pushing for the goal and thought that we had a lot of good opportunities. I know we gave up a little bit in the back, but we have a lot of good guys that [play] up and down [the field], so we have the tools to keep Houston on their toes."

As for Houston, it knows its 2-1 lead is far from safe. The Union is 2-0 at the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium. And while players and coaches alike have said the all-time mark matters little when speaking of the playoffs, it certainly isn't a forgotten stat.

"I don't know if we're comfortable because they're a good team," said Dynamo midfielder/defender Geoff Cameron. "You can't take anything away from them. We can't get too cocky or confident going home and then piss the game away. We're going to go out, figure out our game plan and try to execute it at home and get a win."

An MLS exectutive told the Daily News he felt this clash was to be the most exciting return-leg of the four to be played this week, that while two evenly matched clubs will take the field, one is playing with nothing to lose.

You don't have to be a stats geek to figure out potential in this one.

"You're always bummed out when you lose, but we have everything to play for," Califf said. "The fact that it's a two-game series and that we know that one goal puts us back in it makes what we need to do crystal clear."

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