We'll know sometime late Thursday night if Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon's late, spectacular save against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday night means something for the team.
Despite a Roger Torres-led barrage of Houston's goal in the last 20 minutes, the Union lost the first leg of their MLS playoff series 2-1 at a noisy PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
The game was feisty, and carried that level of playoff intensity Union fans were hoping for. We just didn't get the result we wanted, but it wasn't for lack of trying. The Dynamo are a good team getting hot at the right time, and the Union can't be terribly upset being down one goal heading into the second leg Thursday (8:30 p.m., ESPN2).
Still, I can't get out of my head Union manager Peter Nowak's curious decision to start little-used Stefani Miglioranzi in a home leg. The supporters were pumped, and a bit of attacking verve would have been welcomed.
Instead, Nowak countered his attack-minded inclusion of striker Danny Mwanga in the lineup with the Miglioranzi head-scrathcer.
Then, a bit of Philly grit showed itself when Union left back Gabriel Farfan put his studs square in the face of a Houston player along the touchline. The TV replays didn't do Farfan any favors, and he was lucky to be shown just a yellow card. The Dynamo's Brad Davis, the league's assist leader, then curled a beautiful ball into the box.
Mondragon was rooted to his line, and a Dynamo header put Houtson up 1-0. Not the ideal start, obviously, but Philly's Sebastien Le Toux made it 1-1 almost immediately with a beautiful left-footed finish.
It was game on at that point, but a subsequent yellow card for the previously mentioned Miglioranzi as the result of an innocuous foul cut the Union's momentum.
At that point, Nowak's lineup choices seemed a mirror of his odd starting 11 against New York on Oct. 20. In that game, he called upon little used Zach Pfeffer, a 16-year-old academy player, in a game that could have seen the Union win the Eastern Conference with a win. Odd, but not unexpected when it comes to a Nowak team.
The midfield is never the same with Philly, and while that creates depth you hope by the time the playoffs roll around that there's a settled side. The players deserve that continuity, I think, and when no one can say who's in the starting 11 that's a problem.
The Dynamo made it 2-1 with a beautiful through ball that split Union defenders Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes, followed by a finish that Mondragon couldn't do much about. The Colombian captain of the Union missed significant time with a broken finger, and there have been a few whispers that he's been a bit rusty.
But you have to go with a guy who's played for Turkish club Galatasaray in the Champions League over an untested rookie, and Mondragon would come up big later. The second half started slowly, but at least Valdes and right back Sheanon Williams were getting forward and adding some bite to the Union's attack.
Philly's substitutions were a hit-and-miss proposition. Torres was spectacular, and basically ran the show from his central-midfield slot. Striker Jack McInerney was OK, but tweener Freddy Adu was almost shockingly bad. He looks like he's playing with no confidence whatsoever, which makes him a bit of a liability at this point.
Well, on to that late Mondragon save. It was breathtakingly spectacular, and it kept the Union alive in this aggregate-goal series. And, it easily could have been 2-2 if Valdes' amazingly acrobatic, twisting, backwards header had just a little more loop about it right at the end.
But despite a plethora of Union corners, they were unable to will the ball into the net a second time. Adu, especially, had a few chances fall to him at the top of the box that he could do absolutely nothing with.
One interesting subplot heading into Thursday's second leg in Houston is the feud that broke out between Nowak and Houston manager Dominic Kinnear. TV replays showed words were exchanged between the two managers when it appeared Valdes raked his cleats across the head of a prone Houston player.
After the final whistle blew, Nowak appeared to wave goodbye sarcastically to Kinnear. It shouldn't overshadow the onfield drama as the week builds, but you never know. The Union are in a bit of a tough spot in how they approach the game. Do you go for a 1-0 win and try to force extra time and, eventually, penalty kicks?
Or, do you insert Torres into the lineup from the beginning and go all out for a two-goal win inside 90 minutes ... even if it means you leave yourself open to Houston's counterattacks or Davis' probing passes? It should make for some must-see TV on Thursday night. And, if you're a Union fan, you certainly wouldn't miss it for the world.