Chivas USA were riding high with a six-match unbeaten streak, but they laid an egg Saturday as they fell to Real Salt Lake 3-0 at the Home Depot Center. A brace from Fabian Espindola and a goal with the last kick of the match by Will Johnson were the scores on the night in a dominant performance by RSL, while Chivas had few chances and nothing to show for them.
Espindola opened the scoring in the 41st minute. Jonny Steele intercepted a poor ball from Dan Kennedy intended for Ante Jazic, then passed it on to Kyle Beckerman, who sent a diagonal cross into the box to Espindola, who sent a flicked header past Kennedy. A poor goal to concede all around, from Kennedy's distribution to the defense for failing to close in on the available space. That said, the goal seemed deserved on the run of play, as Alvaro Saborio had a goal waved off in the 35th minute on an offside call that replays showed to be incorrect.
Here are some talking points coming out of the loss:
Chivas were rusty: On one hand, if this came in the middle of a run of games, Chivas might have still looked poor against an opponent as strong as Real Salt Lake. But they played a lethargic match, they failed to connect on passes, and they had few shots on goal (only three all night). In looking at the stats, the teams were actually quite even in everything except goals, which comes as quite a surprise to me. Possession was nearly even (Chivas were pegged at 49.6 percent) Chivas got a slight edge on duels won (52 percent) and RSL held a slight edge in passing accuracy (80 percent for RSL to 77 percent for Chivas). Total passes was even close, as RSL edged Chivas by less than 40.
Ok, so the stats make Chivas' performance look better than it seemed to the eye. But the defense was poor and the attack was impotent. Oswaldo Minda and Ben Zemanski were probably the best players on the night for the Goats, but my prediction that midfield would be crucial turned out to be the case, as Beckerman turned in a terrific two-way performance for RSL. Although it seemed like RSL would be the team with more trouble getting into the swing of the match since they've had a longer layoff, Chivas were the flat team on the night.
About the substitutions: After going down a goal just before the half, I expected Robin Fraser to probably make a sub to start the second, and I figured it would be Ryan Smith, since he has come off the bench at the start of the second half a few times this season. Smith was indeed the first sub, but he wasn't brought on until the 60th minute. He provided the best chance of the match, as he sent a cross into Juan Agudelo with about five minutes left in regular time, but Agudelo's header was saved by Rimando on a terrific play. But why did Fraser wait to bring Smith on when Chivas were down two goals and already flagging miserably? It seemed with a goal deficit, Chivas could take a couple of risks and see if the subs could fire them to a change in fortunes.
Fraser's second sub was to bring on Cesar Romero for Minda in the 77th minute. Minda was almost certainly brought off because he picked up a yellow card a few minutes earlier and Fraser probably wanted to avoid a red card. Romero brought on some energy and seemed to get in on the attack right away, so again: why wasn't he brought on earlier?
I am not the coach of Chivas, nor do I presume to be, but it seemed like Fraser should have brought Smith on in the 46th minute, and then Romero and maybe even 3rd sub (which he didn't make tonight) on simultaneously around the 60th minute. For a match where the starters aren't clicking and nobody seemed capable of fixing the play on the fly, why not use the subs quickly and see if it will make a difference? In the end, the scoreline did not seem to favor Fraser's approach.
Still looking to fill the LaBrocca-sized hole in the field: Yes, missing Nick LaBrocca hurt tonight. Would he have made the difference between a loss and a win or draw? Almost certainly not. But while Chivas have upgraded this year in defense and striker, and while there have been reinforcements in midfield, they still need a player who can control the attack from the midfield. LaBrocca is playing a withdrawn role this season and changed his game last season to become the biggest attacking weapon, but Chivas really seem to need a player who will pull the strings, setting up teammates and scoring himself. Can a player on the roster step up and fill that role? Will Chivas look to sign a player when the transfer window opens? It seems to be an issue that only grows by the match, and hopefully it can be addressed one way or another soon.
Looking ahead: Chivas get right back on the horse when they host the Montreal Impact Wednesday evening. Montreal will be coming off a big 4-1 win today over the Seattle Sounders, when they opened Stade Saputo to MLS play, and there will be several familiar faces on the Impact. Hopefully Chivas can put tonight's poor result behind them and get back to positive play Wednesday against Montreal.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!