After an exciting opening 10 minutes, the Dynamo were able to knock in the go-ahead goal at the half-hour mark and maintain the lead the rest of the way.
The Houston Dynamo rode the momentum of a lively opening 10 minutes that included two goals and a yellow card to defeat the Union 2-1 in Philadelphia's first-ever playoff game.
Houston's Andrew Hainault opened the scoring in the fifth minute, just 120 seconds before Sebastien Le Toux knocked in the equalizer for the home side. The Dynamo's Calen Carr had the winner at the half-hour mark.
Houston's win in front of a crowd of 18,539 puts a strong grasp on the two-game matchup, as the Dynamo return home with the aggregate lead.
"It was a true tale of two halves," Dynamo coach Dominick Kinnear said. "We played very well in the first half, as we were not expecting to be that wide open to start the match."
The experience of the Dynamo was on display throughout the first half, as Union defender Gabriel Farfan earned a yellow card within the first four minutes of the match. On the ensuing free kick, MLS assist king Brad Davis set up a beautiful ball that Hainault easily knocked past the stunned Faryd Mondragon for the game’s first tally.
Philadelphia quickly struck back.
Just two minutes after conceding the early goal, Philadelphia counterattacked with Justin Mapp and Michael Farfan on the right side of the pitch. Farfan lobbed a pass to a surging Le Toux, who yet again knocked the ball into the net.
It was Le Toux's 11th goal in the last 13 matches, as he continues to be the main source of Philadelphia’s offense.
"Both teams have nothing to lose, and they both started that way, with two goals in the opening seven minutes," said Union coach Peter Nowak. "I always stress that we have nothing to lose in the playoffs."
The tempers of both teams continued to show themselves, with a total five yellow cards being issued. The main source of anger came from Philadelphia’s Sheanon Williams and Houston’s Adam Moffat. Williams went for a tackle at midfield, and apparently snagged more of Moffat’s leg than he wanted. Moffat quickly rose to his feet and shoved Williams, knocking Williams into a backwards somersault.
The theme throughout the night was Philadelphia’s lack of defense on set pieces by the Dynamo. Whether it was a corner kick or free kick, it seemed Houston won every single ball knocked into the box.
Fortunately for Philadelphia, that never came back to bite the Union, but it did not mean the end of their troubles.
Just past the conclusion of the first third of the match, Houston took advantage of a Union backline that seemed out of sorts. Brian Ching notched a beautiful assist as he set up Carr, who knocked in the go-ahead goal. Ching was able to get it through both Stefani Miglioranzi and Gabriel Farfan to Carr, who jumped ahead of a diving Carlos Valdes to knock in the eventual game winner.
The second half brought a much more timid Houston Dynamo offense, as they were content to hold the lead, hoping to return home with the one-goal aggregate lead.
Philadelphia was never able to tie the game up, but that was certainly not for a lack of effort. The Union had a plethora of chances in the half, especially in the final 10 minutes. Substitute Jack McInerney came closest to evening the score, as he headed in a cross right into the top crossbar.
The loss was only Philadelphia’s second at home on the 2011 season, and first-ever loss to Houston in the young Union franchise’s history. Houston is undefeated at PPL Park, with a 0-2-1 record in three matches all-time.
The teams will meet up at Robertson Stadium on Thursday to decide who will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia is 2-0-0 all-time at Robertson Stadium, with a 1-0 victory in the opening game of the 2011 season for both teams. Philadelphia will have to win in order to at least have a chance of advancing in the playoffs.
If the Union win by one goal on Thursday, the two teams will go into overtime to decide who wins the matchup on aggregate goals. If Houston wins or draws, it will automatically advance.