Houston Dynamo

Streaking Union dominate Dynamo at home in 3rd straight shutout win

Streaking Union dominate Dynamo at home in 3rd straight shutout win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — They did it again. 

With a two-goal burst in the first half and a four-save Andre Blake shutout, the Union rattled off their third consecutive win with a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

"It's not like a no-hitter where we're not talking about it," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We're talking about it a lot and the guys are really taking pride in it."

After going winless in their first eight games of the season, the rejuvenated Union had outscored their opponents 7-0 in the last three matches prior to Wednesday. And that dominance continued over the Dynamo.

"We weren't an 0-4-4 team," Union veteran Chris Pontius said. "I've been on a bad team. I know what a bad team feels like. This wasn't a bad team, so I knew we weren't an 0-4-4 team. We just kept plugging away. We didn't change much. We showed up to work, rolled up our sleeves and got the job done. Credit to the guys for keeping their head on straight and getting the job done."

In the 17th minute, the host's newfound confidence translated into a goal spawning from a beautiful combination between Ilsinho, Pontius and Fafa Picault. With the ball at the key, Ilsinho laced a right-flank pass to a wide open Pontius, who immediately lofted a high ball to the left for Picault. From there, the diminutive speedster lifted himself over the Dynamo defense to head the ball off the crossbar and in for the 1-0 Union lead.

"It was a good cross by Chris," Picault said. "I can jump, so I just jumped and knocked it in."

The goal was Picault's second of the season.

"We kind of put them in a situation that they weren't comfortable with and that was crucial for us," Pontius said. 

With ease, the Union struck again in the 38th minute, when C.J. Sapong pushed the ball right to Pontius in possession. Tying a career high with his sixth assist of the year, the veteran found Ilsinho with a centering pass that allowed the Brazilian to easily hit a seam and the goal, doubling the Union lead.

"The move starts with Chris and three guys inside the box," Ilsinho said. "I'm behind C.J. and just said, 'Leave, leave, leave.' And he left it for me."

It was Ilsinho's first of the season.

"Ilsinho is a great player," Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. "I think he's the real No. 10. He can hold the ball. He can move between the lines. Like you saw the first half, when we have the ball and we know how to play, he's such an important player for us. He makes the run, he sees the ball, he knows where he needs to play."

Entering the second half, the league's leading scorer Cubo Torres and the 6-4-1 Dynamo weren't able to crack the Union defense, which has posted four straight shutouts. Curtin, whose club is now a respectable 3-4-4, tapped Jack Elliott and Oguchi Onyewu in the middle with Ray Gaddis and Fabinho on the flanks of his back line.

"That's a testament to the quality we do have on the back line," Gaddis said. "I feel like the whole team did well collectively at defending tonight. That's what it's going to take."

Union-Dynamo 5 things: Riding high into mid-week showdown

Union-Dynamo 5 things: Riding high into mid-week showdown

Union vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Riding a four-game point streak and coming off back-to-back wins, the scorching Union (2-4-4) set to host potent Cubo Torres and the equally hot Houston Dynamo (6-3-1) in a rare mid-week tilt at Talen Energy Stadium on Wednesday night.

Here are five things to know:

1. Committing to Defense
The Union’s dramatic turnaround starts on the defensive side.

After giving up two-plus goals is six-straight games this season, the Union have rattled off three consecutive shutouts, outscoring their competition 7-0 over that span. It’s resulted in two wins and a road draw.

“The best defenders in the world can do nothing if there isn’t pressure to the ball,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “And that’s where we’ve been better. That makes everyone’s job across the back line a lot easier and more predictable. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But it does give us a chance in all these games.”

While the team is scoring goals in droves, the players believe it’s a stronger commitment to defending that has the Union winning games. The club has won back-to-back games for the first time since Aug. 24 and Aug. 27, when they defeated the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City.

"I think we're just working a little harder and everyone is committed to defending,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake told reporters. “I think we all get that it's going to take 11 to defend. We all understand that there are no plays off and we've just got to work as hard as we can on the defensive side of things."

Blake, who had a rocky start to the season but is now tied for second in MLS with four shutouts on the season, wasn’t tested often, earning the one-save effort last Saturday. And even though it didn’t involve much work, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year will take every clean sheet he can get.

"As a goalkeeper, I can take some of those nights,” he said. “If we have 35 games and I get zero shots and all shutouts, then I'll take that. The guys are doing very well and it's making my job easier, so I just need to make sure that whenever something is coming my way that I'm in the right mindset and ready to make a save."

2. Stopping Cubo
The Union’s defensive resurgence will be tested on Wednesday. With 21 goals on the season, the Dynamo, led by Torres’ league-leading eight goals, are atop the Western Conference in points and currently lead the league in scoring.

“We need to stay consistent and collectively defend from top to bottom, from C.J. Sapong to Andre Blake,” said Union defender Ray Gaddis. “We want to be a cohesive unit, do the dirty work and stay together. We know we are facing a good Houston team, we just need to stay together and focus on the task.”

That task includes stopping the league’s leading scorer. Facing the New York Red Bulls on May 6, the Union were able to stop Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Last Saturday, they completely shut out Luciano Acosta, frustrating the attacking midfielder into taking a red card.

“We’ve done a good job limiting the opponent's chances,” Curtin said. “The biggest thing with that is trying to cut out their key guys. We’ve done a good job of limiting touches, chances and played some decent soccer along the way as well.“

Next up: Torres.

“He’s clinical around the goal,” Curtin said of Torres, who earned four his eight goals from penalty kicks. “Their wingers are so dangerous, Alex is so dangerous on the dribble, it results in a lot of fouls around the box. I think they had six PKs, five scored, so we have to be smart because they are so dynamic.”

3. Dynamo’s Road Problem
Leading the Western Conference with 19 points in 10 games may be an impressive feat for the Dynamo. But it doesn’t mean they are perfect.

The Dynamo, who have played a large chunk of their home games early this season to avoid mid-summer heat in Houston, are 6-0-1 at home but a paltry 0-3-0 on the road.

“This is a test for us,”  Dynamo fullback DaMarcus Beasley said. “We don’t try to look too much in the future but eight of our next 11 are away from home.”

The goal for the Dynamo over that span, beginning on Wednesday, is transferring their impressive home play to the road. According to Beasley, that hasn’t been an easy process, leaving the club still trying to find themselves away from BBVA Compass Stadium.

“If we figured it out we’d be winning on the road,” Beasley joked with reporters. “There’s no secret. We have to think that we can win and be able to incorporate what we do at home on the road. So far we haven’t done that. I can’t pinpoint it but we’re working really hard to try and make that right.”

4. Keep an eye on
Dynamo: Leading MLS in goals, Cubo Torres has eight goals in eight starts this season. One of the more potent offensive forces in the league, he had a goal and four shots against the Vancouver Whitecaps last week.

Union: Defensive midfielder Haris Medunjanin broke out offensively last week by notching his first MLS goal and two assists. He now sits tied for third in MLS in helpers with five on the season.

5. This and that
• The Union are 4-6-4 against the Dynamo all-time.

• With four assists on the season, Chris Pontius is two off his career high in helpers. He earned six total in 2016.

• The Union will be without midfielder Roland Alberg (hamstring) and center back Josh Yaro (shoulder), while Dynamo forward

• Alberth Elis is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Union-Dynamo 5 things: A reunion in Houston

union-dynamo.jpg

Union-Dynamo 5 things: A reunion in Houston

Union vs. Houston Dynamo
9 p.m. on TCN

If the Union (7-5-5) want to shake off a run of two losses in their last three MLS games, they’ll first need to get through their former teammates Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana and the Houston Dynamo (3-8-5) on Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Here’s five things to know:

1. Wenger, Maidana reunion
The Union revamped their roster this offseason, shipping Wenger and Maidana to the Dynamo, where they joined up with another former teammate, longtime Union fullback, Sheanon Williams. 

Saturday will mark the first time the Union get to face their former mates.

“I've been waiting for this game since I got here from Philadelphia,” said Dynamo midfielder Maidana, who played two seasons with the Union. “I hope this Saturday to be as positive for me as for my team. I still don't know if I am going to play but I am really looking forward for this game. I hope to be there to face my ex-teammates and hopefully win the game.” 

But even while the emotions might run high for players like Wenger, Williams and Maidana, who were ejected from the Union roster involuntarily, the Union’s demeanor will stay the same. For them, it’s just another game.

“It’s not so big of a deal,” Union midfielder Brian Carroll said. “It’s good to see them beforehand, maybe have a bite after the game, but really it’s shake hands and get on with it.” 

2. Battered forwards
Entering the 2016 season, the Union were noticeably light on forwards. That fact might come back to bite them on Saturday, as they are dealing with injuries to their top-three striker options -- C.J. Sapong (ankle sprain), Fabian Herbers (hamstring) and Sebastien Le Toux (concussion).

Le Toux is out and will not travel with the team, while Herbers and Sapong are questionable.

“We have a good group, we have a deep team, and we have a lot of guys who have stepped up in tough times,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Whether it’s losing players to injuries or international duty, we’ve managed to have the next-man-up mentality.”

Though Sapong should be available in limited duty, the Union are expected to tap into that “next-man up mentality” when they lean heavily on Leo Fernandes, a midfielder by trade that played forward in college. 

“Leo has done it in college,” Curtin said. “And he showed he could do it in Major League Soccer. He’s very good holding the ball, fighting for things, strong. The last two games now he has come into, he’s left a real mark on. It’s the sign of a young player that’s growing up and getting confidence.”

Fernandes, who has played in eight games this season, is expected to work in a false-nine style, which has the potential to throw the opposing defense out of whack without a true forward to cover. 

“I say it in front of my whole group in training, Leo is our best player,” Curtin said. “Almost every day, in terms of getting goals, setting up goals, he does an excellent job and now it’s translating to the field in the big moment.”

3. Houston heat
When facing the Dynamo as visitors, there’s one constant: The unbearing Houston heat.

“The pitch and the weather help us a lot here,” Maidana said. 

And it could on Saturday, as Houston is expected to see scattered thunderstorms and a high of 94 degrees, including close to 90 at game time.

“Yeah, it’s hot,” Curtin said. “It’ll be right around 100 degrees, so you know you’re dealing with the elements. They’re a little more acclimated to it, which is an advantage for them. We’ll have to be smart with how we keep possession, how we move as a team.” 

When asked how to deal with that, Union midfielder Warren Creavalle, who played three seasons with the Dynamo, didn’t really have an answer.

“Hydrate? I don’t know,” he said. “Teams usually do have a tough time coming into the heat. But after breaking through that initial barrier, get your wind and adjust, it’s just another game. You just have to manage yourself well.” 

Carroll is also wary of the task at hand. 

“It doesn’t matter if they are friends or foes, playing in Houston in the middle of the summer isn’t an easy task,” he said. “We’ll have to rise to the challenge.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
C.J. Sapong: After weeks of false starts, Sapong is set to play on Saturday. But as Curtin noted, the amount of time he’ll contribute is unknown. “C.J. will be a factor in Saturday’s game, I can say that with confidence now. Minutes? I don’t know yet, but if I know C.J., he’ll want to start.”

Andrew Wenger: He couldn’t fit in with the Montreal Impact and he couldn’t find his way with the Union. But now that he’s with the Dynamo, things have been looking up for Wenger. The attacking player has been dangerous this season, with four goals (two off his career high) in 16 games. He’ll be looking to punish his old team on Saturday. “Andrew is a great player,” Curtin said. “He’s having a good year for them. He’s a player I always thought highly of. It’s a good change of scenery for him.”

5. This and that
• The Union are 4-5-5 against the Dynamo all-time and 2-4-0 in Houston.

• Despite the Western Conference beating up the East this season, the Dynamo are just 0-3-2 against the East, while the Union are 0-3-3 against the West.

• Though the Dynamo have improved throughout the season, the West’s lowest team is winless since May 14 (1-0 win over Real Salt Lake). Since then, the Dynamo are 0-2-3.

• During that five-game span, however, the Dynamo have only allowed six goals -- three came in a 3-2 loss to the Portland Timbers on June 26.