Chivas USA were less than two minutes away from getting a clean sheet and a point to start the 2012 MLS season. Robin Fraser used a very defensive lineup for most of the match, sacrificing offense but making defense a priority, and it nearly worked. But Houston Dynamo defender Andre Hainault pounced on a loose ball in the box late in second half injury time Sunday, and the Dynamo defeated Chivas 1-0. It was a difficult result, not only because of how dull both attacks were for most of the game, but also because it seemed Chivas coach Robin Fraser's strategy to prioritize defense was ultimately for naught.
Despite the result, there were some good aspects and some not-so-good aspects to the performance for the Goats. Let's go over some of the key talking points.
Defense first nearly paid off: By my count, Chivas had only two players starting the match with a purely attacking agenda: forward Juan Pablo Angel and left winger Laurent Courtois. Unsurprisingly, the attack was almost an afterthought for most of the game, but the good news was that with the other nine players mostly concerned with defense, Houston didn't get many chances of their own on the day and the game was mostly played in the midfield. Although we won't know what the impact of Michael Lahoud's injury did to Fraser's preferred starting lineup, having Ben Zemanski playing on the right wing instead of Ryan Smith or Courtois did make sense insofar as Fraser clearly wanted to avoid a shellacking on opening day. Zemanski did defend well all day, as did Oswaldo Minda, Nick LaBrocca and Peter Vagenas (more on him in a minute). Was it overkill to have essentially nine defenders for most of the match? Perhaps, but I don't fault Fraser's approach whatsoever. The goal was an unlucky bounce, and had they held on for the whole match, most fans would have probably been very happy with a clean sheet against the defending Eastern Conference champions.Vagenas played a key role: There have been complaints in recent years that Chivas have lacked vocal leadership on the field. Like him or not, but Vagenas did that for the first hour of the match, from the opening whistle. Much like Simon Elliott last season, Chivas need a vocal leader to help control the proceedings, and since Heath Pearce is not a vocal leader, nor LaBrocca, Vagenas stepped up. Look, the team needs somebody marshaling the squad from the outfield, and Vagenas picked up the mantle immediately. Am I still concerned if he's playing every match? Yes. I think he should ideally be playing around 15 games this season. But if nobody else steps up, he may get the call more frequently.
Deja vu for Kennedy: He may have been wearing a bright green kit instead of last season's preferred black, but Dan Kennedy was back to his 2011 form Sunday. I thought a quote from Fraser after the game was telling, as he noted that this was Kennedy's best performance in 2012. Although that may not make much sense, considering Kennedy has only played one competitive match this calendar year, I think there were a few concerns that Kennedy might not be up for another stellar season in 2012. He didn't play badly in preseason, but his focus and positioning seemed to waver a bit. Still, he stepped up when it counted, and that's what the Goats need. He had a triple save sequence a few minutes before the goal that looked like it would be Houston's last stand, but unfortunately, he couldn't keep the final shot on the day out. Still, a very good day by Dan the Man.
Now, about that attack...: It will be interesting to see what lineup Fraser uses next weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have a very potent attack that got considerably stronger with the addition of Sebastien Le Toux. Frankly speaking, I think Vancouver's attack will be much sharper than Houston's. Will it be another nine-man defense? I wouldn't be surprised, and frankly I don't think it is necessarily a bad idea. But it would be nice if there's a bit more attack on the field, because there are major concerns about Vancouver's defense that was largely untested in their 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact Saturday. Strange as it may be, Fraser will have a tough choice to make in only the second match, and over time he will need his backline to gain his trust so that more midfielders can join in the attack.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!