Chivas USA had to deal with some adversity tonight, as Nick LaBrocca suffered a hamstring injury and had to be replaced within the first 10 minutes of the match, but they came away with a road point in an entertaining 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls Wednesday. Juan Pablo Angel made his return to Red Bull Arena for the first time since he was a member of the Red Bulls, and he scored his second goal of the season on a terrific effort in the 47th minute. Blair Gavin took a corner kick from the right side of goal, Rauwshan McKenzie headed the corner towards goal, and JPA took the flick and made a spinning overhead kick to score in tight space. Since it was the first goal of the MLS gameweek, I'm sure it will get buried by those that come later on in the Goal of the Week chatter, but it was a lovely goal.
The Red Bulls pushed all match and after the half hour mark really took over the match. Although the game was open in both halves, New York dictated the tempo and Chivas were increasingly placed on the back foot. Although the equalizer came as a disappointment to the Goats, it seemed quite inevitable. Kenny Cooper evened the score in the 56th minute when he tapped in a cross from the right by Dane Richards. Although Chivas quickly gave up another lead, a definite concern, that they were able to hold on for a draw represents a good accomplishment, especially because it was a midweek match on the opposite coast.
Return to form for JPA: It can't be said that JPA is necessarily back to "normal" following tonight's performance. He caught an elbow from Dax McCarty in the 63rd minute that left him on the ground for awhile and when he finally got up, he looked like he might have suffered a concussion again. My position on this is clear: players who get concussions should not continue playing, as they risk not only their immediate health but also their long term health. A player's future quality of life should not be sacrificed for a few minutes on the field. But I'm not a doctor, and I don't know if he got hurt. Evidently not, as he continued playing, but he still doesn't look like he's fully healthy at the moment.
This wasn't supposed to be a negative talking point, though. Angel had a great shot off the bar in the 25th minute, his second such post rattler this season, and his goal was terrific. He also respected his former team and their fans after he scored, as he refused to celebrate and did a somewhat comical "calm down!" motion about 20 times. Despite the respectful gesture, Angel seemed like he had extra motivation to perform tonight, as he clearly felt he had more to offer the Red Bulls, and he's still scoring terrific goals even two teams later. JPA is probably not able to play extensive minutes anymore, but he's still got a vital role with Chivas, as tonight proved.
Possession is a problem: The official possession statistic for Chivas was 44.6 percent. While I don't want to impugn Opta, possession stats are notoriously imprecise, and it seemed like Chivas held the ball far less overall. Again, the game was remarkably open, and both teams played numerous counterattacks, so Chivas often chugged up and down the field with the ball. But let's talk about an emerging problem with this team: they can't seem to keep possession. Sure, they've gotten a lot of results this season against the run of play, but Chivas can't continue to cede possession and hope for the best. Holding possession does not automatically mean results, but the formula most good teams follow is to hold onto the ball and build up to good scoring chances. Robin Fraser has tried to build Chivas into a team that controls games through possession, but that ideal is falling short too often this season.
Of course, one big reason that might contribute to the lack of possession tonight was LaBrocca's early exit. As the default central midfielder since the start of last season, obviously LaBrocca is a vital part of the game plan and losing him was a blow that probably disrupted Chivas' play. But with a hamstring injury, he is pretty much certain to miss Saturday's game at the very least. We'll have to wait and hear about the severity of the injury, but if he's out for a sustained period, that will be a big blow for the Goats. Although LaBrocca has not provided the offensive contributions this season, he was flipping the ball between defense and attack pretty well. If he's missing for a long string of matches, Blair Gavin, Paolo Cardozo, Miller Bolanos or whoever else Fraser plays in LaBrocca's place will have to step up.
Speaking of Bolanos...Fraser inserted Bolanos in the ninth minute for LaBrocca. While I don't think Bolanos did a lot to distinguish himself on the night, besides setting up JPA's shot off the post in the first half, I don't think he played all that badly. But he was removed in the 69th minute for Jorge Villafana. Usually, replacing a sub is a universal sign that a player was playing so badly he needed to be brought off in humiliation. I don't think Bolanos did anything to merit that treatment. The only mitigating factor I can think of would be that Fraser removed him in order for him to get enough rest with Saturday's match in mind. Considering LaBrocca will most likely be out, perhaps Bolanos will slot in as central attacking midfielder against Seattle. But he's not an old guy, at only 21. I don't know, if he's starting against Seattle, then maybe Fraser was looking beyond this game strategically. But if he's out Saturday, perhaps he's in the Fraser's doghouse.
Kudos to Jazic for the goal line clearance: Heath Pearce was the hero on the backline with a miraculous clearance to preserve a win against Toronto FC. With Pearce gone, Ante Jazic stepped in to save a sure goal of his own, as he manned the near post on a corner and cleared McCarty's headed shot. Dan Kennedy had four saves on the night, including a couple of spectacular ones, but Jazic made sure to take care of business and help preserve the point.
Good night for the referee: The Red Bulls broadcast crew noted that referee Armando Villareal was officiating his first MLS match tonight. For how often fans complain about poor officiating, Villareal had a good night and even had to deal with a tiff between Oswaldo Minda and Cooper. Although Joel Lindpere fell down as he was moving out of bounds near goal and claimed he deserved a penalty, it looked like a stretch of a call at best, and Villareal rejected the appeal. Kudos to Villareal on a job well done, as he was not the center of attention at all, something that other referees would do well to remember.
Looking ahead: Chivas will fly back home and prepare for another match Saturday against the Seattle Sounders. Fortunately for Chivas the Sounders are also coming off a Wednesday match, but it will be another tough match for the Goats.
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