Union welcome Dynamo to PPL in crucial East showdown

Playoff fates hang in the balance on Saturday when the Philadelphia Union host the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park.

Philadelphia is currently hanging onto the fourth position in the Eastern Conference with 39 points, but a loss on Saturday combined with a New England win over Chicago would see the Union fall dangerously close to missing the playoff spots.

Philadelphia will need to show a bit more urgency than it did last week in a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes if it wants to earn a second-ever postseason berth.

Last time out, San Jose netted the only goal of the match in the 15th minute courtesy of a spectacular piece of play from former Union man Shea Salinas, who took down an aerial ball with one touch and fired a shot from a difficult angle past an out-of-position Zac MacMath.

Philadelphia was handed a lifeline in the 57th minute when San Jose's Rafael Baca was shown a second yellow card and sent off, but Philadelphia was unable to find the back of the net and pushed its winless run in league play to four straight games.

Union manager John Hackworth lamented his team's inability to score:

"I'm extremely disappointed. We let an opportunity to separate ourselves in the table slip by having a poor performance out here in San Jose," Hackworth said after the match. "You've got to give credit to the Earthquakes, though. They're a good team; they make it hard on you. They bring so much pressure. But at the same time, we didn't have a lot of quality, in particular the first half."

Hackworth also said in his mid-week press conference that as many as six spots in the starting 11 will be up for grabs against the Dynamo. If Philadelphia is to claim three vital points against a weakened Dynamo side that will be without several key players, changes to the squad, particularly in midfield, are a good place to start.

Midfielders Michael Farfan, Antoine Hoppenot and World Cup veteran Kleberson figure to be in the mix to start the match on Saturday.

Houston, meanwhile, is winless in its last three matches and coming off a 4-1 shellacking at home last week against the New York Red Bulls.

The Dynamo fell behind in the 14th minute through Eric Alexander, but equalized four minutes later when Jason Johnson found the back of the net.

However, it was all New York in the second half as Thierry Henry, Johnny Steele and Lloyd Sam all scored to lead New York to an impressive victory.

Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall emphasized his club's defensive issues in the second half.

"The chances they got were not just half-chances; they were breakaways or clear shots," Hall said. "If the other team is taking chances and getting half- chances and running away with the ball with difficult shot, that's one thing. But when it's a one-on-one, there's been a breakdown.

"We've had a handful of games now on the trot where we haven't been good enough," Hall continued. "I think there's a common thread."

Houston has earned three points on the road just once this season and will be without defenders Corey Ashe and Eric Brunner and midfielders Andrew Driver and Boniek Garcia. They will need to put in a complete 90-minute performance to keep their playoff hopes afloat.

In seven all-time meetings between the clubs, Philadelphia holds a 3-2-2 margin, but Houston collected a 1-0 win at BBVA Compass Stadium earlier this season.