Ok, I have looked at the stats, taken advantage of the condensed feed (I'm apparently frozen out on MLS Live for another day) and read the coverage of Chivas USA's 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium last night. After soaking all that in, I wanted to offer a more complete discussion of the win, since it should be given the attention it deserves. Hopefully winning becomes a habit from here on out, but at the very least, Chivas have a major win in 2012 and can build on it.
Here are some of the talking points coming out of the match:
Chivas are ahead of the curve compared to 2011: After the first two performances, it looked very much like Chivas were going to start this season much like last year. Poor play, no offense, a premium on defense - all the signs were there. But last year, Chivas didn't win until April 23, when they beat the San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 on the road. It was their sixth match before they notched that first victory last year, while this time around they managed a win in the third match. Much as I've said following the losses, this is a long season and a lot can happen over the remaining 31 league games. But getting that first win of the season allays fears that this group doesn't have what it takes to compete and improve in 2012. They will need to do it consistently (and admittedly, there is a lot of room for improvement) but it finally looks like Robin Fraser's plan might be working in year two.No offense, and yet...Chivas didn't have many scoring chances on the night. Peter Vagenas took a wild swipe at a bouncing ball early in the match and mishit it (then he almost scored an own goal a couple minutes later on the other end). Casey Townsend only had one shot in the match, and he made it count. While he very much poached the goal, the buildup to the goal will likely be forgotten in the recaps. Chivas held onto possession during the stretch preceding the goal, with the ball starting in Chivas' side of the midfield, on the near side. The ball moved up the field on the near side, before Nick LaBrocca took the ball and dribbled through the middle of the field for a moment before directing it up to the far corner of RSL's end. Jazic was far behind the play, but there was a lot of space in that area of the field, and it was clear he and LaBrocca knew what to do. Jazic ran onto the ball, withstood the pressure coming his way from the defender, and made a floating cross into the box. While I understand why he didn't get an assist on the goal, considering it was Townsend's header that disrupted RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando from properly handling the cross, it demonstrated the teamwork that led to the goal. No question, Townsend poached it, but paradoxically, Chivas had great linking play in getting to the goal.
Good leadership from Pearce: I have already written about my reservations concerning Heath Pearce so far this season. He has seemed distracted, and his tendency to lead by example and not vocally was on full display. I don't think players necessarily need to be loud and demonstrative, but with a team as young as Chivas, and with the responsibility Pearce has on the team, it would be nice if he was more vocal on the field. He showed up in a big way Saturday, and he and Rauwshan McKenzie had a flawless night as the center back pairing. Putting his body on the line, marking RSL's dangerous attackers well, and giving directions to the less-experienced players on the night, it reminded me of why Pearce is in the U.S. Men's National Team mix. Until this team can settle down and take care of business without explicit directions from veterans, I hope Pearce continues to step up for the Goats.
Of course, props to Kennedy: Oh, Dan Kennedy. Where would this team be without you? He only had three saves in his stat report, and by and large, RSL screwed up their chances more than he stopped shot after shot. But that last-gasp save on Fabian Espindola's shot in second half injury time? It was a thing of beauty. I normally hate when goalkeepers celebrate a save during a game, but I doubt many would begrudge him for celebrating as soon as he stopped the shot. I would love to see wins where Kennedy isn't counted on time and time again to preserve points, but I don't mind singing his praises every single match if he continues to play so well. Chivas are very lucky to have Dan the Man between the posts.
Minda May be Chivas "Pest:" Pretty much every opponent so far has complained about Oswaldo Minda's play. He is extremely physical, and will surely earn his share of yellow cards in MLS. But he just might serve a vital function that Chivas could use: the "pest." In ice hockey, the pest is a well-established role, as one player is given the task of getting under the skin of opponents, disrupting their game and provoking penalties. In MLS, some of the best defensive midfielders, like Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso, the Galaxy's Juninho, and even RSL's Kyle Beckerman all pick their spots and can play the pest role exceptionally well. Minda seems like he can serve that role for the Goats. The question is whether he has the skill and brains to pick his spots and bring more than just being annoying to the fray. It's something of an open question, as he's only had three matches in the league, but the signs so far look pretty promising.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!