The Philadelphia Union's season is over after a 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium in the second leg of their playoff series.
Needing to overturn a 2-1 aggregate deficit after the first game, Union manager Peter Nowak deployed an attack-minded lineup that included forwards Sébastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney.
But Nowak's midfield - which also included Michael Farfan, Velkjo Paunović and Brian Carroll - failed to provide good service to the forward line. That weakness was made clear as the Union struggled throughout the first half to maintain possession of the ball.
At the other end, Houston got a steady supply of chances to score on set pieces. The Dynamo finally broke through two minutes into first-half stoppage time, as Brian Ching headed in a trademark free kick from Brad Davis.
Nowak finally brought in his most dynamic midfielders, Roger Torres and Freddy Adu, in the 67th minute. Justin Mapp also entered the game at the same time, making for a rare triple-substitution.
But the Union could not crack Houston's back line, as the Dynamo retreated to defend the 3-1 aggregate lead. Nor, frankly, did the substitutes improve the Union's rhythm and ball movement all that much.
Had it not been the last game of the season, Nowak would have been able to do plenty to improve his team's form before the next game. But it was the last game, and now there will be no chance to show improvement until next March.
From where I sit, this Union team came up short of its potential in the postseason. That is an indictment of Nowak's decision-making as much as the players' skills. I don't say that easily, because I think Nowak is a very good coach who can take this club a long way.
And there's certainly no doubting how much the Union have improved from 2010 to now. Nor is there reason to believe there won't be similar improvement from now until kickoff in 2012. But as this season ends I can't help wondering what could have been.
I have been writing about the importance of creative midfielders since the first game the Union played. From the evidence displayed over the two games of this playoff series, I see no reason to stop now.
You can read the transcript of my live chat from the game below, and you're welcome to share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the post.
Time: 8:30 p.m. EDT
Venue: Robertson Stadium, Houston, Texas
TV: ESPN2 (Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman)/ESPN3.com/ESPN Deportes
Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragón
Defenders: Gabriel Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdés, Sheanon Williams
Midfielders: Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, Sébastien Le Toux, Veljko Paunović
Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney
Bench: GK Zac MacMath; Ms Freddy Adu, Justin Mapp, Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Nakazawa, Amogi Okugo, Roger Torres
Goalkeeper: Tally Hall
Defenders: André Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe
Midfielders: Adam Moffat, Danny Cruz, Brad Davis, Luiz Camargo
Forwards: Brian Ching, Calen Carr
Bench: GK Tyler Deric; Ds Hunter Freeman, Jermaine Taylor; Ms Alex Dixon, Je-Vaughn Watson; Fs Will Bruin, Carlos Costly
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