Chivas USA have advanced to the quarterfinal round in the 2012 U.S. Open Cup after defeating the Carolina RailHawks 2-1 Tuesday in Cary, North Carolina. It was a tale of "first half good, second half not so good" for Chivas, and yet they still came away the victors, after substitute Juan Pablo Angel converted a penalty late in second half stoppage-time. As I suggested in the match preview, the game was indeed nervy for Chivas, as they seemed set to capitulate to the RailHawks in the second half, but they indeed got the goals when they absolutely needed them.
Chivas opened the scoring in the first half, when Laurent Courtois' cross found Juan Agudelo in the box in the 32nd minute. Agudelo sent the glanced header on a nifty angle to beat Carolina goalkeeper Ray Burse. It capped off a first half in which Chivas was dominant, and seemed fully ready to control the second half. Carolina had other thoughts, however, as they came back strong after the restart and proceeded to squeeze the visitors more and more over the course of the half.In the 79th minute, they got the equalizer as substitute Mike Palacio sent a sharp shot in the box past Chivas keeper Tim Melia. It initially appeared inevitable that Carolina would grab a late winner or take the game to extra time, but in injury time, Angel took on Carolina defender Gale Agbossoumonde in Carolina's box. Agbossoumonde tried to make a sliding tackle to dispossess JPA, but his arm stopped the ball on the ground, and he was called for a hand ball. JPA stepped up to take his second penalty of 2012, and he calmly slotted it home. The stadium was full of angry RailHawks fans after the match, but replays show the referee got the call right.
With that, let's discuss some of the key talking points coming out of the match:
Chivas fortunate to hold on after shutting off: Unlike most of Chivas' games recently, they were dominant in the first half against Carolina and probably should have been up by more than a goal. They held possession well, players all over the field regularly touched the ball, and Agudelo and Jose Correa, starting together up top, were a handful for the RailHawks' defense. Courtois also put in a good shift, and although he works hard, he hasn't looked particularly sharp much of the year. After seeing him team up with Agudelo on the goal, though, maybe he just needed better teammates to play with in order to show his quality. Meanwhile, although Carolina's Cory Elenio had a shot that narrowly missed in the first half, Chivas were quite strong defensively in the first 45 minutes.
The switch was flipped in the second half, and not in a good way. Although the first 10 minutes of the second half were quite open, Carolina began playing much more physically and did not give Chivas a chance to settle on the ball. Although Chivas needed to keep their composure and raise the tempo of their possession, they didn't, instead settling for the old "absorb and counterattack" style that isn't really their forte. Make no mistake, Chivas have played well the last six weeks or so, but they've also been quite lucky to get the six-game unbeaten streak, as most of these results have included a second half lack of focus. Sooner or later, if Chivas keep playing this strategy, it will catch up with them. Fortunately tonight, they turned up the possession and pressure after Palacio's equalizer, and JPA's dribble in the box proved decisive in the win. Hopefully that gives the team motivation to work on their game plan and continue their ongoing development.
Stars come up big: Chivas played a couple of backups due to international absences and injury, and Tim Melia was in for Dan Kennedy (more on that below), but Chivas basically played two-thirds of a first choice lineup tonight. Agudelo and JPA, the forwards at opposite ends of their playing careers, stepped up and got the key goals for the Goats. The additions of Agudelo and Correa seems to have made an immediate difference for this team, and Agudelo now has two goals in four appearances for Chivas. And while I maintain JPA will not be an option every game from here on out, Robin Fraser has done well to put the veteran in when it counts, and bringing him on tonight as a substitute was a terrific move. This is why they get paid the big bucks, and Agudelo and JPA were huge in Chivas' win.
About Melia: Although the Ventura County Fusion were quite active last week against Chivas, Melia wasn't tested very much. Although he got the clean sheet in his first competitive match for Chivas, and he's now won two matches in a row with the Goats...he isn't Dan Kennedy. I know, I know, he's getting valuable minutes that could prove useful if Kennedy couldn't go, and the fact is that he's gotten two wins. Also, there's almost certainly only one Dan Kennedy. But he had some very nervy moments between the posts against Carolina. Actually, one of his issues was that he was eager to leave the goal line and come charging out several times. As it turned out, he wasn't burned on any of those forays, but his decision-making looks a bit shaky. It could just be one match, and he could be getting the cobwebs out in order to get sharp. But make no mistake: if Melia plays in the quarterfinals, Chivas' opponent will try to fluster him and lure him away from his goal as often as possible. It will be up to Melia and the coaches to try and make sure that won't be a problem moving forward.
Looking ahead: Chivas resume MLS play June 16 against Real Salt Lake. But they will resume Open Cup play June 26 when they host the Charlotte Eagles at the Home Depot Center complex in the quarterfinal run. A home Open Cup match? A good reward to loyal fans, but can they replicate their road magic in Carson?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!