Chivas USA's Game Plan Leads to Mixed Result

SANTA CLARA, CA - MAY 13: Did Chivas use the right strategy against San Jose? (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

In the initial aftermath of yesterday's 1-1 draw between Chivas USA and the San Jose Earthquakes, I regarded the result as a positive one for Chivas. My rationale was that a draw was better than a loss, and considering the polarized form of the two teams heading into the match, plus a three-game losing streak for the Goats, a draw seemed like a good result. I still stand by all that, but some Chivas fans on twitter took me to task for my rather-rosy assessment. As I noted in the match report, I really expected Alan Gordon to score once he entered the match, and the way the play was being dictated by the Quakes, it seemed inevitable that Chivas could not hold on to a win for the entire match.

For that, I must cop to an attitude that means I don't fully believe in Chivas' abilities to avoid late defensive mistakes at this point in time. But given their track record this season, in which they have dropped five points off goals in the last three minutes of regulation or later, you may understand my reluctance to fully believe they will hang on. But I still believe in this team and want them to succeed, no doubt. As many fans correctly observed yesterday, however, Chivas' apparent game plan didn't do them any favors in trying for a win.

The lopsided nature of the game stats are remarkable, although perhaps less so if you saw how it unfolded. Although possession was in favor of San Jose 62.5 percent to Chivas' 37.5, the gulf seemed far larger. San Jose completed 201 more passes than Chivas, had 24 attempts on goal to Chivas' five, and had six shots on goal to Chivas' one (which of course was Jose Correa's goal). San Jose also won the duel battle, with a 54 percent edge, a statistic that is usually indicative of the form of the teams within the match. All in all, Chivas did not control any category, except goals, for a remarkably long stretch in this match.

It is unclear if the team got directions from the Chivas coaching staff to basically bunker for more than 85 minutes, or if the players did it out of instinct. But it cannot be denied that Chivas conceded possession for the entire match after Correa's goal in the fourth minute, and the fact that they were able to shut down the twin attack of Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart altogether was a terrific accomplishment, especially considering Wondolowski entered the match with a scoring rate of more than a goal a game this season. But the nervy defending in Chivas' box throughout the match to accompany the always-terrific goalkeeping by Dan Kennedy (who did edge his counterpart Jon Busch in saves, by a five to zero margin) meant an equalizer seemed like it was never far behind.

The ultimate question is if Chivas would have found themselves on the losing end if they would have held onto the ball and tried to make a concerted effort at a second goal. I think most fans thought the bunker mentality was all wrong, and considering the letdown of Gordon's goal, it seems the strategy that worked earlier in the season against Real Salt Lake fell short this time. But would Chivas have been caught on the counterattack if they pushed for a second goal? That is what happened last week against the Chicago Fire. Marco Pappa had considerable space with which to give Chivas' defenders pause that he might pass it off to an unmarked teammate before hitting the game winner himself. Considering the prior mistakes and the effectiveness of the bunker strategy against RSL, on some level it seemed like a good idea.

And yet...Chivas didn't have to bunker for 84 minutes against RSL. As far as I'm concerned I would take bunker ball if it produced wins, but when it doesn't, it is doubly disappointing. Chivas seem to be stuck at the moment, unable to get real traction with a group that seems improved over the 2011 squad, but the results are not bearing this out. It seems Robin Fraser is going to have to keep tinkering if this club is going to make a substantial step forward in 2012.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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