Smith Fuels Comeback: Chivas USA 2, Portland Timbers 1

Apr 1, 2012; Carson, CA, USA; Smith was the clear man of the match for Chivas. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

It was truly a game of two halves Saturday night between Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers, but in this case, Chivas saved their best for last, winning 2-1 in Portland. It was a poor first half which was capped off in the 16th minute when James Riley set an inadvertent pick on Dan Kennedy and led to a flubbed grab of the ball by Kennedy, which led to a goal by Kris Boyd, in a goal very reminiscent of Casey Townsend's a couple weeks back. In the second half, Chivas got their mojo back, and Ryan Smith, who came on as a second half sub, made the difference on the attacking end for the Goats. He set up both goals with excellent crosses from the left, first to Alejandro Moreno in the 48th minute, and then to Nick LaBrocca in the 82nd minute. It was a gutsy performance from a team that looked completely disjointed in the first half, and it may be demonstrating that Chivas are a team made for the road, at least in the early going.

With that, let's go over some of the talking points in this match:

Timbers' goal was payback from the karma gods: Look, it was a rough play. If Kennedy and his defenders get mixed up on a consistent basis, then we can think of it as a problem. But much like the botched play that led to Townsend's winner against RSL, this was a lucky bounce for the Timbers, and Boyd did well to be in the right spot to capitalize on the flub. Besides that, the Timbers were dangerous early on the dribble on the edge of the box, but they didn't challenge Kennedy directly very much. This was indeed a night in which the rest of the team stepped up to take the pressure off of Kennedy and win the match. Obviously, coming back makes that goal look much better in hindsight, but that kind of goal happens from time to time. If Riley and Kennedy can figure out their communication moving forward, it shouldn't be an issue.

Chivas looked bad in the first half: Ok, so the Goats tried to attack from the opening whistle Saturday, and while it took until the second half for it to start clicking in earnest, it is a good sign overall. But the defense looked poor, and Chivas could not hold onto possession in the first half. Rauwshan McKenzie looked shaky for the first time all season. Obviously Riley was at fault for Boyd's goal. Oswaldo Minda looked like he wouldn't make it to the 50th minute as he was even more aggressive than he needed to be. Cesar Romero, getting his first career start, was a bit shaky, although it was of course unrealistic to expect a great deal from him. I'm not trying to rain on the well-deserved parade of a Chivas win, but I don't want the second half to totally overshadow the poor performance as a group in the first half.

...But Chivas dictated play in the second half: I assume the postmortem in this match from Portland folks and many neutrals will be that Portland played bad in the second half more than Chivas played well. But Chivas really dictated the play in the second half, and Smith absolutely torched Lovel Palmer. The defense regained its composure and McKenzie and Minda in particular calmed down. Moreno and LaBrocca played like savvy veterans, especially to get in position for their respective goals. Smith will likely get the headlines for man of the match, and deservedly so. But I think the unsung player of the match is definitely Ante Jazic. He was the only player in my opinion who played well for the whole game, as he had several crisp tackles in the first half, and helped move the ball upfield effectively throughout the game. He did nothing spectacular on the night, but he led by example, and lucky for Chivas his teammates caught up to him in the second half and elevated their collective game.

Do Chivas play better without the ball? It could be a coincidence, but in two wins this season, Chivas have held less than half of the possession in both matches. For a system predicated on holding onto possession and dictating play, this is a surprising development. By no means were the goals on proper counterattacks, and I don't think anybody would argue that Chivas should play a counterattacking style, as the defense would most likely be unable to withstand it, but it's interesting that Chivas have dealt well without the ball.

Good build up to winning goal: I rewatched the run up to the winning goal to make sure, but more than half of the team touched the ball on the winning goal. Kennedy started the play on a very long shot from around the center line. He easily controlled the ball, then gave it to Jazic, who moved along the left touchline. He passed it back to Heath Pearce in the middle, who moved up with the ball when he saw some space. When he got to about the middle of the field, he gave it to Ben Zemanski, who kept pushing the ball through the middle, as Portland's defenders did not close in on him. When he approached the offensive third, Zemanski passed it to Smith on the left wing, who dribbled it almost to the endline, before sending the cross in the box. Moreno was not in the right spot, but he provided a decoy of sorts, and LaBrocca slotted in a few feet behind Moreno to head the ball in, as the sixth Chivas consecutive Chivas player to touch the ball. It was a good play, and offers promise for the Goats moving forward on the attacking front.

Looking ahead: Chivas will have another road match next Saturday, this time against Toronto FC. TFC are the only team in the league yet to earn a point this season, but don't let that fool you. They are one match away from getting their season on track. It will be Chivas' task to make sure it doesn't happen next week.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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