CARSON, CA - JULY 18: Smith: Played a huge role in Wednesday's victory. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
A first half goal from Miller Bolanos, his first in MLS, gave Chivas USA the edge Wednesday afternoon in a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers at the Home Depot Center. The win gives Chivas a vital three points, moves them up to 6th place in the Western Conference (as of this posting), and puts them just three points behind the LA Galaxy with a game in hand. Chivas should really work for six points this week, but with the win today, they are halfway to their goal.
The scoring opened (and closed) in the 16th minute, when Ryan Smith made a run with the ball, starting on the right wing, then cut in towards goal, making an easy run around Timbers left back Steven Smith, then moved into the box and took a sharp shot along the ground. Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins pushed the shot aside, but Bolanos was making a trailing run on the other side of the box and was in perfect position to get the shot into the open net. The entire sequence was both a circumstance of Chivas playing well and Portland's defense being a split second slow. Either way, it was all Chivas needed to get the win.
With that, let's discuss some of the talking points coming out of the match:Another good showing against the Timbers for Smith: I suppose it isn't a bad thing that Chivas get to play the Timbers once more this season, because it will give Ryan Smith another opportunity to play them. He's played great against them twice already in 2012, and although he wasn't credited with an assist in this match, he should get the credit for doing 95 percent of the work in the goal. In the first half he was electric, and he may have thrown the Timbers for a loop by playing on the right wing, instead of his customary left wing position. On top of that, Smith was active in jumpstarting the attack in this match, by taking four shots, second among all players on the field to only Bolanos. He seemed to get tired by the end of the match, probably because he does not customarily play 90 minutes, but even when he was tired, he was able to hold onto the ball as Chivas were killing off the game. If Smith can bring more of this to games when Chivas are playing other teams besides the Timbers, great, but it was a very good showing for the Englishman.
Kennedy, defense take care of business again: How's this as an indication that Chivas are doing well defensively this season? Chivas haven't given up a goal in league play in 318 minutes. That's a stretch that leads back to the June 20 match against the Montreal Impact, when Felipe scored near the end of the first half. Since then, Chivas have gone three straight matches with a clean sheet, and remain one of the best defenses in the league as far as goals against. To be fair, Portland seemed to lack a certain sharpness in attack (sound familiar?) but the Goats did what they had to do to prevent many build-ups before they really produced chances. It was also a good outing for John Valencia, getting his first start in league play since May 26. Portland was a good opponent for Valencia to get the start, and he went the distance for the first time since he joined the team. This gives him confidence moving forward, and provides confidence on the part of the coaching staff in case Danny Califf or Rauwshan McKenzie need rest or pick up an injury. In all, this is a confident unit, and with All-Star Dan Kennedy between the posts, Chivas know they will provide a stiff challenge against most teams. That is something they will need to do on Saturday against the Galaxy in the second SuperClasico, the same Galaxy team that just scored five goals on the Timbers (and who also conceded three goals in the same match).
Midfield dominates the game, but more work to do: Not only did Chivas score a goal at home and keep a clean sheet to get the win, the midfield did a great job controlling the middle of the park in this game. Nick LaBrocca and Ben Zemanski alternated as holding midfielders in this game, and both played a box-to-box game well. It seems quite likely that Zemanski is actually jumping ahead of Peter Vagenas on the depth chart at defensive midfield, although he's still versatile enough to play in other roles as well. It's probably also good timing, as Vagenas came off the bench in this match to shore up the defense and ended up injuring his hamstring, leaving Chivas with 10 men for the last 10 minutes or so of the match. Coupled with the dislocated shoulder injury of Oswaldo Minda, Zemanski, or a platoon of Zemanski and LaBrocca will probably handle the role for at least the next few games.
And it's great to see the midfield get involved in the scoring, as Bolanos' goal is the midfield's third this season. Considering the team's scoring woes, that's 25 percent of the team's total, but we all know the team needs to score more. In this match, a single goal was all it took, and the midfield did its part, but it is safe to say that not all teams will provide the same reeling opposition that Portland offered. Paolo Cardozo, my recent whipping boy on this site, nearly broke his MLS duck and scored as well, and if he had this match would have produced even more confidence. As it is, if he continues to feature in the lineup, he'll need to keep working on productive passes to teammates and actually taking good shots. They did what they needed to get the result, but they can't rest on their laurels at this point.
Looking ahead: The Goats take on the Galaxy Saturday, in their second meeting of the year. The Galaxy are playing Vancouver tonight in British Columbia, so both teams will be playing on short rest. The Galaxy were abject in the last meeting between these clubs, while Chivas did what they needed to get the win. Since that match, the Galaxy have been reinvigorated and it will be interesting to see how both teams perform Saturday.
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