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The 2nd Season

The title of this post is a bit of a double meaning.  Yes, this is the 2nd season in the existence of the Philadelphia Union.  But the point is to begin analyzing Union’s matchup in the MLS playoffs, which is the “2nd season.”  Houston Dynamo is the opponent, as they finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference when LA Galaxy laid down and handed them 3 points.  That sham of a result pushed Union down to 3rd, because Chicago beat Columbus Saturday.  It doesn’t matter how Union reached the matchup that they have, the important part is that they are in the MLS Playoffs in just their 2nd year as a franchise.

The playoffs are an interesting season unto themselves.  There are four rounds, and three of them are  single-game matches hosted by the higher-seeded team.  The lone round that is two-leg aggregate is the second round, which Union get a bye into by virtue of finishing in their conference’s top 3 spots.  This system works out well for Union, being that they are a young team, and even their veteran players are new to this league.  Even though I referred to the Galaxy’s last match as a “play dead” kind of effort, the bright side is that Union get to now play their first playoff game at the comfort of PPL Park.

This is important for two reasons:  1) There are inevitably going to be nerves for a lot of the players playing in their first playoff game, as it promises to be their most intense yet, and 2) Nowak doesn’t deploy the offensively-challenged two-central-defensive-midfielder formation that he does on the road.  I’m sure that the player’s apprehensions will be allayed when they hear their home crowd singing and cheering for them.  My hope is that that feeling will allow the team to play more loosely and confidently in attack.  Houston, also, is a team that Union have, historically, had success against.  The details of the matchup will be broken down in a later post, but there are ways that Union have found to take advantage of Dynamo.  This, also, should help build confidence.  Nowak’s tactics, as logic-defying as they can be, usually include starting a more offensive lineup in home matches.  Since there is no “away goal” tie-breaker in MLS, Union would do well to win their home half of this series by more than 1 goal.  That will force Houston to play under more pressure in the 2nd leg, which is the better position to be in.

It’s great for Union to be in this position, and we’ll spend the rest of the week posting break-downs of several key matchups and aspects of this mini-series as we approach Sunday.

Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union.  (follow me on Twitter, @UnholyUnionNDY)

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