So it looks like we're back to moral victories for Chivas USA. Although they played well during a physical first half, and bunkered well in the second half, Chivas lost 1-0 Sunday to Sporting Kansas City. The problem with the bunkering strategy was that they failed to score, while also allowing a goal, by CJ Sapong in the 47th minute. On the bright side, Chivas have only conceded three goals on the season, good for seventh in the league. The bad news is that they have only scored one goal for the season, tied with Toronto FC for worst in the league. Although the defensive error ultimately cost them three points, the bigger story coming out of the match was that the offense still has not clicked in any sustained way. The team defense that has been good in the first four games of the season has not bred team offense.
To my surprise, Robin Fraser tweaked the lineup ever so slightly, keeping Peter Vagenas on the bench, and going with Nick LaBrocca and Oswaldo Minda as roving holding midfielders. Meanwhile, Alejandro Moreno was back in the lineup for the first time this season, although he played in midfield as expected and earned his keep by drawing several fouls. Casey Townsend started up top alone once again, and showed more promise, but had some rookie mistakes as well. And Laurent Courtois and Ryan Smith provided some width, although it almost all came on the left.
Here are some talking points coming out of the match:Chivas played checkers, SKC played chess on the goal: When Graham Zusi hit a long-range blast in the 47th minute, Dan Kennedy made a save to push it off the post. That the rebound bounced up in the air so lazily and stayed in play was a fluke, but instead of heading the floating ball directly at goal, which most players in the league would have done, Zusi headed it across the goalmouth to Sapong, who was waiting, and he finished easily. Heath Pearce was muscled off the ball on Zusi's header, and Rauwshan McKenzie didn't anticipate the threat from Sapong. Kennedy had to prioritize whether to guard against Zusi shooting point blank at goal or other possible threats, so he made the right decision in sealing the main chance. But Zusi was a step ahead of Chivas, and set up a simple goal. A play like that distinguishes the decent teams from the very good, and while the scoreline wasn't a blowout and the play was quite tight at times, it demonstrated that there still is gap in decision-making between the teams.
Given the good defense played for 97% of the season so far, one thing seems clear: Chivas' defense has played well. Robin Fraser needs to return to a balanced lineup, and provide more support on the attacking end. Again, this was an issue early last season as well, and in spite of the personnel for most of the season, the Goats found a way to score as the season wore on. There are evidently some improvements in the midfield and forward corps, but we've yet to see them gel and make an impact on the field.
Minda and LaBrocca looking like a decent partnership: Oswaldo Minda has played every minute for Chivas so far this season, and he seems to be getting his sea legs in MLS more every match. I am still concerned about his decision-making at times, and he doesn't seem like he has the chops in the attacking department (at one point during Sunday's match, he had the ball in Kansas City's box, and panicked, sending a silly pass away from goal). He may get that with time, as he seems to score at a rate of a goal every 11 to 13 games or so, so if he held the same pace in MLS, he would be good for 3 goals this year. But it doesn't look good so far. The good news is that he's a great ballwinner in midfield, and he won the ball very well in the first half in this match. Meanwhile, Nick LaBrocca played more of a midfield pivot role, expanding on his job last week, and his shot that went off the post in the 54th minute was the Goats' closest scoring chance of the game. LaBrocca's versatility is what helps keep him on the field, and he gets stuck in as well as leading the attack. If Chivas are to improve over the first month of the season, LaBrocca needs to take the initiative for the second season in a row and guide the squad. But over four matches, Minda and LaBrocca look like they can take care of business together in the midfield, a promising sign moving forward.
Time to start a forward pair? On the game, possession was basically 50-50, and the same went for duels. Chivas had a slight edge in number of passes, while SKC were more accurate in their passing. Now, you could make a compelling argument that the reason Chivas played them so evenly in most of the stats (except goals, of course) was because of the 4-5-1 formation, but it seems like maybe it's time for Fraser to start two forwards up top. With Juan Pablo Angel still out injured and no timetable on his return at the moment, it might not be a bad idea to move Moreno back up to forward to pair alongside Casey Townsend. Or maybe Miller Bolaños should get a longer runout, as I think he only had four touches in about 20 minutes of action Sunday. If Bolaños is as good as advertised, then he needs to get some sustained minutes in order to show everyone what he has. Against Portland next week, it would be cool to see a couple of forwards playing, but I don't know if Fraser is ready to break up the crowded midfield yet.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!