TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 31: Smiling faces, three points - Chivas could get used to this (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
What a difference a year makes. In 2011, Chivas had to wait until their sixth match of the season to get their first victory. In 2012, they have three wins in their first six matches, after defeating Toronto FC 1-0 Saturday at BMO Field. The win is Chivas' second in a row and continues their impressive road form, where they have gotten maximum points so far this season. All in all, it is a win to demonstrate Chivas' continued improvement under coach Robin Fraser.
That said, it was not the most seamless performance for the Goats. Chivas held the edge in the first half, although both teams had difficulty getting solid chances in the opening 45 minutes. But two of Chivas new players connected on the only goal of the match, when Miller Bolanos took a corner kick in the 31st minute that Oswaldo Minda headed bouncing off the turf and past TFC goalkeeper Milos Kocic. It was Bolanos' first MLS career start, and he impressed, while it was another excellent performance for Minda, who is looking more and more like a crucial signing in the offseason.The second half represented a different side of Chivas, and probably one that fans probably would rather not see, as Chivas sat back and allowed TFC to get back in the action over the course of the half. The strategy became very dangerous towards the end of the match, as Dan Kennedy made a couple huge saves and Heath Pearce made a remarkable save off the line to preserve the three points. At this point, an ugly win is vastly preferred to a beautiful loss, but even though they are winning there certainly seems to be room for improvement.
With that, let's take a look at some of the talking points following the match:
The MLS All-Star campaigns for Kennedy and Minda are underway: Chivas very much needed Kennedy in this one. TFC did not get much going in the first half, although Kennedy did make a sliding challenge in the box to poke the ball loose in the 16th minute, but he wasn't particularly busy until the 70th minute, when he stopped a backheel by TFC forward Danny Koevermans with his, uh, midsection. The pressure intensified from there, as he tipped a point-blank shot from Ryan Johnson in the 79th minute, but he didn't get enough on it to get it out of danger. Fortunately for him, Pearce was able to step in and clear it for what has to be one of if not the best save by an outfield player in MLS this season. In the 85th minute, he was tricked by Johnson, whose re-directed header went just wide of the far post. But he made the key save in the 89th minute, when Koevermans' shot was pushed aside by the slimmest of margins. Of Chivas' three wins on the season, this is the second in which Kennedy had to make an essential save in the waning moments of the match to preserve the points for his team. The more Kennedy impresses, surely the more respect he is bound to get, and if his performances accompany wins, it should help get him the many plaudits he deserves.
Meanwhile, Minda has continually improved each match, and he is definitely a fixture in the lineup (except for suspension due to yellow card accumulation, which will probably be coming soon). His presence in the midfield has shored up the defense and allowed Nick LaBrocca to move up and play a more offensive role the past couple of games. That he scored the winner was a surprise but certainly welcome. I still doubt he will be turning into an offensive dynamo, and he will probably get a red card sooner or later, but this writer endorses the "Minda for the MLS All-Star Team" campaign.
Bolanos was sharp: It was a busy day for the other Ecuadorean on Chivas' squad: he took corners for Chivas, assisted Minda's goal, cleared another shot by TFC off the goalline while guarding the near post, and got an undeserved yellow card, all in 67 minutes. In the run-up to the goal, Bolanos was dynamic, and his speed and skill were on full display. He wasn't selfish either, as he played several give-and-go stretches with teammates all over the field, switched flanks with Ryan Smith, played centrally when Alejandro Moreno switched to the flank and nearly scored on a cross from Moreno. I can see why he was so highly touted after coming to Chivas, and I hope he continues to get starts, as I think he can show a lot more. Also, he's the only Chivas player to show any aptitude on set piece service, so that is another check in his favor. May we see much more good play from Bolanos.
Chivas lost the plot in the second half: Look, I don't want to discredit Toronto here. They have more quality than five straight losses to start the season would indicate, and the absence of Torsten Frings for nearly all of the season has been very significant. So they were bound to start clicking a little at some point. But while Chivas hung on for the win by the skin of their teeth, they would have been punished several times over by a team with more quality and confidence. I realize that possession for the sake of possession does little, but when Chivas hold possession, at least in the past four matches, good things happen and chances on goal often emerge from spells of sustained possession. In the second half, they basically let TFC take the ball and keep it, and spent far too much time making last second clearances and basically relying on TFC's miscues. They won ugly ultimately, and nobody's going to begrudge them for that, but moving forward they need to work on dictating the game, no matter the scoreline.
Looking ahead: The Goats will be back in the Home Depot Center next Saturday, as they will host the Philadelphia Union. No doubt this will be a topic of discussion in the coming days, but it will be a big test for Chivas to continue their winning streak and just as importantly, get their first points of the season at home. Philadelphia got their first win of the season today, but it was an ugly affair and they look to be a far less-imposing team than they were last season. If Chivas can continue to get results, they can continue to prove the haters wrong and move up the standings.
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