The Houston Dynamo came out ahead in a physical battle with the Philadelphia Union in the first leg of their playoff series. The Dynamo will try to stay just as aggressive when they host the Union on Thursday night with a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
Houston entered the playoffs on a six-game undefeated streak, outscoring opponents 11-5 over that span. The Dynamo continued that hot streak and moved to the brink of the conference finals with a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia on Sunday. All three goals came in the first half, with Calen Carr breaking a 1-1 tie in the 30th minute. Andre Hainault also scored for the Dynamo, who have won three straight.
"We came here for a reason," Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said. "The main thing is the result. Our locker room is a good place right now."
The Dynamo, who won the MLS Cup in 2006 and '07, seem to have hit their stride - particularly defensively, having not allowed more than one goal in any of their last six matches. A scoreless draw would send Houston to the next round, but the team's goal heading into the second leg is to stay aggressive, especially after how chippy the first game was. Six yellow cards were issued, including four to Philadelphia.
The Dynamo spent most of the second half of Sunday's game on defense, with the Union attempting 18 shots after the break. "We have to take that second half as a warning," forward Brian Ching told Houston's official website. "They have talent and if we don't take that into account, then we're asking for trouble. We definitely have that on our minds and we're looking to come out and attack a lot more than we did in the second half."
The Dynamo will be especially wary of Sebastien Le Toux, who scored Sunday and has 11 goals in his last 13 games. Despite facing a deficit on the road, Philadelphia isn't panicking after its second straight loss overall. The Union have won both of their previous visits to Houston, including a 1-0 victory in the season opener March 19.
"We have won there before, so we go back with the mindset that we can do it again," Le Toux said. "We have to regroup and we will do that."
One thing the Union probably won't try again is the controversial formation they used in the first half of Sunday's loss, which included five players on the back line. After dropping the plan in the second half, the team was able to take control offensively, even though it wasn't able to convert.
"We made too many naive mistakes in the first half and it's difficult to overcome that," coach Peter Nowak said. "But we still created chances. We had enough chances to put the ball in the net to tie the game and maybe win it."
The winner will visit Sporting Kansas City for the conference finals Sunday.