The silver lining of the Union's trip to Houston
Lost in the hysteria of Tuesday night’s thrilling win over FC Dallas in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup – a win that earns the Union a chance to play for their first trophy in club history on home soil in September – was the crucial realization of what it means to compete on two fronts.
Less than 70 hours after the celebrations died down at Toyota Park, the Union will have to figure out a way to field a team to take on Houston in a meeting of playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference.
That’s for the third game in seven days, barely three days removed from 120 grueling minutes in the Texas summer heat, to turn around another effort in the sweltering conditions of Houston.
It’s a task that will test the newfound depth that Union manager Jim Curtin boasted about this week, for sure. But there’s a twofold installment of good news for the Union.
1) All things considered, they’ve got some fresh legs;
2) Whoever gets named, it won’t be worse than the last squad to represent the Union in Houston.
Let’s address the latter point first: Here’s what the team that faced Houston last July 6 looked like.
The predicament for the Union was so dire that John Hackworth actually opened the door to the doghouse to let Roger Torres out for 19 minutes, trying to bring some shape to what might have been a 4-2-4. He was joined among the illustrious subs by a 30-minute runout for Don Anding, his only MLS appearance, and a late cameo by Matt Kassel. The unused subs? Jimmy McLaughlin, Cristhian Hernandez (whose name MLS spells wrong) and Chris Albright. Yet despite all that, the team still almost scratched out a result, only separated from a draw by a soft goal by Ricardo Clark on a defensive breakdown.
That game was on the back end of a two-game Western swing, the Union having snatched a draw from the jaws of victory against Real Salt Lake July 3. They were missing Michael Farfan and Danny Cruz due to injuries picked up vs. RSL, Michael Lahoud and Kleberson were on long-term injury absences, and Keon Daniel and Jack McInerney were away at the Gold Cup.
This trip Friday is hardly that desperate. In addition to Curtin divulging Tuesday that “we had planned on calling some guys back from Philly anyway”, he has some fresh legs at his disposal.
Defensively, Carlos Valdes is rested, having not played Tuesday. I’d expect Fabinho to get a chance at one of the fullback positions (he’s missed the last five MLS contests), while Austin Berry would be a prime candidate to be flown in and, you know, actually play.
In the midfield, Brian Carroll is fresh, and I’d suspect Curtin would use a player with his defensive acumen in a place like Houston anyway. Amobi Okugo, who played Tuesday but not Saturday against Montreal, is relatively rested. And while Maurice Edu (with the added bonus of last Wednesday’s All-Star appearance), Lahoud and Vincent Nogueira looked heavy-footed at times Tuesday, Cristian Maidana logged just 30 minutes in his return from injury.
Up front, Sebastien Le Toux needs a break at some point. But Andrew Wenger looked good in 90 minutes, and Cruz only played 30 (plus he'll be raring to go against his former team), while Brian Brown didn’t really impact the game in his substitute appearance. As long as the Philly-to-Houston shuttle is running, maybe it’s a time to see Zach Pfeffer?
So, if I was Curtin, here’s how I would go (left to right):