Preview: Union host first playoff game vs. surging Dynamo

PHILADELPHIA UNION v HOUSTON DYNAMO
Sun., Oct. 30, PPL Park (5 p.m. ET; ESPN2/Deportes)

REFEREE: Jair Marrufo, SAR (bench): C.J. Morgante; JAR (opposite): Corey Rockwell;
4th: Jasen Anno

INJURY REPORT: PHILADELPHIA UNION -- OUT: GK Thorne Holder (concussion); FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); DOUBTFUL: FW Veljko Paunovic (R hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Justin Mapp (L quad strain); PROBABLE: DF Joe Tait (R ankle sprain) ... HOUSTON DYNAMO -- OUT: FW Cam Weaver (R hip)

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SUSPENDED: none

WARNINGS: none

LEAGUE HEAD-TO-HEAD: PHI 2 wins, 6 GF ... HOU 0 wins, 4 GF ... Ties 2

2011 HEAD-TO-HEAD: PHI 1 win, 2 GF; HOU 0 wins, 1 GF; 1 ties

AT PPL PARK

  • 8/6: PHI 1, HOU 1 (McInerney 15 -- Cameron 84)

MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: first meeting

PHILADELPHIA UNION

  • Union manager Peter Nowak has an injury concern for the first playoff game in club history. Veljko Paunovic, who has started 12 of the last 14 games since the start of August, missed the regular season finale with a right hamstring strain and has not returned to full training.
  • "Those kinds of injuries, you never know how it's going play out. I don't think it was anything major or that you would say that he'll be out the whole series," Nowak said. "I'm not a doctor; I'm trying to find out what's going to be the best recipe for [his return]."
  • After missing four consecutive games with a right hip flexor injury, Danny Mwanga has featured in the last two games, playing the second half in the season finale.
  • "I think at this point, I'm back at 100 percent. I think I got my speed back," Mwanga said. Said Sébastien Le Toux: "We need him. He's a big piece up top with me. He can score big goals and I'm sure he's going to help us. And maybe for the next game, I can play with him up top from the first minute and we can re-find our connection."
  • While it's Union's first playoff game in their second season, six players -- Danny Califf, Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp, Freddy Adu, Stefani Miglioranzi and Le Toux -- have a combined 27 playoff berths, seven title game appearances and five championships.
  • "We haven't held team meetings or anything but certainly in our own little way we're tying to convey the kind of attitude you need to take into the playoffs," said Califf. "There's more emotion, more urgency, and everyone is juiced. I think we're going to be ready."
  • All season, Nowak has chopped and changed his lineups and his tactics. In the season finale, he lined up Le Toux as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, then when Mwanga came on at halftime along with Freddy Adu, it became a 4-1-3-2.
  • "We had guys who can really play the ball to the feet and try to spread it out," Nowak said. "We had Sebastien Le Toux and Justin Mapp with their speed up top as well. We didn't have that good fluidity throughout the game. ... Bringing on Freddy as well, he's another technical player, so it gave us more options. Brian [Carroll] still did a good job in the middle. It gave us a little more going forward."

HOUSTON DYNAMO

  • The Dynamo enter the postseason as the hottest team in MLS, unbeaten in their last six (4-0-2).
  • "This team, the last five or six games, has been under a lot of pressure," Kinnear said. "... One game we'd be top of the conference and then we'd be fourth or fifth after the weekend was over. We've played catch up quite a bit this year and the last five or six have been a test for this group, home or away, and I think we've handled it well."
  • Key Dynamo contributors have also come into form. Brad Davis won the MLS assist title with his 16th assist in the season finale; he has three in the last four games. "The playoffs are a whole different story. This year has been a year where a lot of young guys have learned a lot," Davis said. "We started well and had a little lull in the middle of the year, but there is no better time to start playing well and I think the team has done that well."
  • Carlo Costly scored his first league goal in the finale. "I think it's huge for him," said Davis. "He's got a good mentality, and he's continued to work hard. We knew it was going to come for him, and the way things are going hopefully he can rattle off a couple of more. Now's the best time for him to start scoring goals."
  • The win against LA in the season finale also gave Dominic Kinnear his 100th league win, the fifth MLS coach to hit the century mark.
  • "People doubted him early in the season, and look at what he's done with us this year," said Geoff Cameron. "It's a tribute to him as a coach and his hard work, day in and day out, and his putting the right team out there. He's got us in the playoffs, and we're going to make a run for it."
  • The win against the Galaxy also pulled the Dynamo out of a potential wild card game. "Getting that week to rest, especially for guys who have some injuries here and there; it gives us some time to get back to 100 percent and get ready for a big playoff game," said Cameron. "Missing the playoffs last year left a nasty taste in our mouth. Now back into it, we want to make a run for the cup."
  • Bobby Boswell scored his fifth goal in the season finale, pulling him into a four-way tie for the Dynamo's scoring lead. Two of the four are the current first-choice central defense pair: Boswell and Cameron.