CHESTER, Pa. – It was the Philadelphia Union's unconventional five-man backline that grabbed most observers' attention in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday. Perhaps lost in the uproar was another lineup adjustment: the reunion of Sébastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga up top.
It was the first time in nearly two months that Philly’s two top scorers started the same game.
“Stepping into the game and playing up top with him was a wonderful opportunity,” Mwanga said following the club’s 2-1 loss. “We tried our best, got a goal in the first half, and spent the rest of the game trying to fight back. But unfortunately we didn’t get [the second goal].”
Hampered by a hip injury, Mwanga missed four straight games from Sept. 3 to Oct. 8 and then came of the bench for the final two contests of the regular season.
Even still, the second-year player is second on the club to Le Toux with five goals and four assists. In fact, over the club’s first two seasons, Mwanga and Le Toux have accounted for nearly half of the team’s total goals.
“I like to play with Danny,” Le Toux said. “He’s a great player with great technique. I was very happy to play with him. We tried to make things happen. It was a bit hard in the first half because we were far from each other, but in the second half we were a bit closer. I’m sure if we play closer together, we will reconnect like we did last year.”
Le Toux ended up scoring the only goal for Philly in their opening-leg defeat, after receiving a pass from rookie Michael Farfan and one-timing a left-footed shot into the back of the net.
Mwanga looked good as well before coming out in the 76th minute, at one point running down the field past a series of defenders and firing a long shot on net.
And while the two strikers didn’t connect as much as they have in the past, they still helped lead an attack that finished with 11 shots on target.
Do they hope to be paired up top again for the second leg of the series at Houston’s Robertson Stadium on Thursday (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes)?
“That’s a coaching staff decision,” Le Toux said. “It depends how Danny is going to recover and how I recover, too. I think that will be a game time decision.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.