Union's changes cost them in MLS Cup series against Houston

Posted: November 05, 2011

HOUSTON - It was a simple statement, nothing that will appear on bulletin boards, but it helps explain why the Union's long season has ended and the Houston Dynamo will be in Kansas City, Kan., on Sunday to play Sporting in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference final.

After his team's 1-0 win over the Union on Thursday night at Robertson Stadium, which gave Houston a 3-1 edge in the two-game aggregate-goal Eastern Conference semifinal series, Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis explained why his team is still are playing soccer and the Union's long and successful second season is history.

"When we won the ball, we were a bit more composed in the final third," said Davis, who had two assists in the series, both off long free kicks. "We weren't trying to force anything."

Contrast that with the Union, who in the two-game series that began with Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Dynamo at PPL Park in Chester didn't play consistent, free-flowing soccer. This was particularly true Thursday.

There were too many long balls that ended up in the Dynamo's possession. In essence, the Union were trying to beat Houston at its own game, and it turned into a mismatch. Houston was too big and too physical, and the Dynamo inhaled too many of those long passes.

"I think we were forced into a tempo of trying to push the game, and that's not really our way," Union defender Danny Califf said. "We were pushing the game the way they wanted to with long balls as opposed to more possession on the ball."

Houston couldn't have been happier with the Union's strategy.

"It played right into their hands," Califf said. "They have a couple of big center backs, and all of them, aside from Corey Ashe, are big, and along with their midfielders they eat that up."

Team manager Peter Nowak had suggested before the playoffs that the Union couldn't drastically change what had gotten them there.

And then in the two games, they drastically changed things. In the first game, they went with five defenders, although in fairness, outside backs Gabe Farfan and Sheanon Williams were making consistent runs, playing more like midfielders.

Still, the Union were down, 2-1, at halftime using that strategy.

In the second game, Sebastien Le Toux, so effective as the Union's target player, was moved back to midfield. Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney started at forward.

"Danny and Jack had good weeks last week and not just me, so we had all of us out there trying to score," Le Toux said.

Still, it wasn't putting Le Toux where he can be most effective. Next season, the shuffling between midfield and forward for Le Toux should cease. He is among the top target players in MLS, and everything should be built around that.

On the same note, the Union may look into playing with a more settled lineup. Nowak has been known for his unpredictable moves, but that doesn't mean they were good ones.

For instance in Game 1, he started Stefani Miglioranzi as that fifth defender in the back. Miglioranzi had played all of one minute in the previous five games.

Even McInerney, who played well in a reserve role in Sunday's game, hitting the crossbar on a header in the 88th minute, entered the postseason having played a total of 31 minutes in the previous five games.

But, despite a loss that left everybody in the Union locker room rightfully disappointed, the team appears to have a bright future.

Beckham leads Galaxy to win. In what could be his final season with the Los Angeles Galaxy, David Beckham set up the first goal and then won a penalty to lead his team into the MLS Western Conference final with a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls on Thursday night. The 36-year-old midfielder, whose contract is nearly up, has been targeted by Ligue 1's Paris Saint-Germain.

Los Angeles will host Real Salt Lake in the conference final on Sunday night.

Trio named to U-23s. The Union's McInerney, Williams and Amobi Okugo were added to the training-camp roster for the U.S. under-23 team by coach Caleb Porter on Friday, along with New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo.

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

This article contains information from Inquirer wire services.


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