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MLS Preview: Union look to put late collapses behind against struggling Houston

SOC - Dynamo vs Toronto FC

Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear reacts to a call against his team during the second half of a Major League Soccer game against Toronto FC on Saturday, June 22, 2013, at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Smiley N. Pool) MANDATORY CREDIT


The Philadelphia Union have let four points slip away in the dying embers of their previous two matches, causing coach John Hackworth to tell the media how much hair it’s causing him to lose.

Hint: it’s a lot. With those four points, they’d be top of the Eastern Conference.

Instead, they sit in third and remain embroiled in the smorgasbord that is the East. Saturday they have an opportunity to distance themselves further from the Houston Dynamo, who remain just four points back despite having just picked up two points in their last seven fixtures.

The fact Houston remain in a playoff spot despite that awful record is a testament to the parity in the East. Houston are winless since May 8 and goalless in their last 329 league minutes - 419 overall including their tumble out of the U.S. Open Cup. You have to travel all the way back to April 28 to find their last home goal.

(MORE: Houston Dynamo - brace for impact)

And yet, they’ve created chances. Somehow, they just can’t finish. Against New York on Sunday, the Dynamo produced 11 shots with 25 crosses. Unfortunately, the quality was missing. Just three of those 11 shots were on target. That’s not exactly much of a test for the opposing goalkeeper.

That could possibly change Saturday. Honduran playmaker Oscar Boniek Garcia is questionable, missing since the last round of World Cup qualifiers with a hamstring injury. If able to play, the midfielder would add a fair bit of quality back to the squad. His arrivial last season turned things around in time to win an MLS Cup; could his addition do it again?

Even if the Honduran does return to the Houston lineup, don’t expect goals to fly out of this match. With each team missing their young frontmen to Gold Cup duty, replacements will be needed. Jack McInerney and Will Bruin are hoping to get their first shot at real international action, leaving their clubs that much thinner.

Also on duty with the USMNT are Houston’s Corey Ashe and Philadelphia’s Keon Daniel. Although playing different positions, the two are cornerstones of their respective clubs, with their absences requiring a temporary fix.

For Houston, absences are becoming a normality. Missing for the Dynamo in addition to Bruin, Hall, and Ashe will be right-back Kofie Sarkodie, leaving yet another hole in the back line. Finally, Brad Davis is a “long shot” according to head coach Dominic Kinnear. Look for defenders Warren Creavalle and Eric Brunner to continue their fill-in duties, with Mike Chabala possibly getting a shot as well.

With Philadelphia sitting much lower than they should after last-minute points let free, and Houston tabled higher than expected with a seven-match winless streak in play, it’s a match with much intrigue, and about as much table ramifications as you can get this early in the season.