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It was a familiar sight for Chivas USA fans Wednesday, as the Goats lost 1-0 to the Columbus Crew on a very late goal. Substitute Justin Meram scored during a scramble in the 89th minute to give the hosts the victory and a vital three points, while the visitors have to lick their wounds yet again before playing another Eastern Conference game at the weekend.
Chivas started the game very well, with Miller Bolanos getting a couple of shots on frame early in the game, but all were saved by Crew keeper Andy Gruenebaum (he had five saves on the night). Bolanos led Chivas with five shots on the night, and unlike previous games, he kept them in orbit this time. Alejandro Moreno, getting his first start in a month, had a penalty appeal (although it probably wasn't a strong shout), as did Nick LaBrocca, but the referee wasn't hearing any of it. Chivas controlled the first twenty minutes of the game and looked very sharp, but Columbus played their way into the game and were in charge by the end of the first half. In the second half, Columbus simply looked a step quicker and sharper than Chivas, and while it seemed like Chivas could get a point and clean sheet from this match, Meram's winner meant it was not to be on the night.The goal came when Federico Higuain sent a cross into the box that was poked onto goal by Jairo Arrieta, who was busy all night for Columbus. Dan Kennedy made a reaction save on the shot, but the rebound hung out in front of goal. John Valencia attempted to clear the ball, but Arrieta stuck with the play and tried to shoot as he was falling over. He couldn't get a shot off, but sent the ball up in the air and into the path of Meram, who buried the shot. Game, set, match.
With that, let's discuss some of the talking points coming out of the match:
No goals, no clean sheet: On the whole, Chivas played a decent match. But it was a full team effort in dropping points in Columbus. The offense couldn't get the breakthrough goal, although they had several decent early chances, and that cost them dearly. The midfield had difficulty holding onto the ball, especially as the game wore on. Ryan Smith was a welcome addition to the starting lineup after his hamstring injury held him out for the entirety of the winless streak Chivas has been on. But he was worn out in the second half, and probably should have been replaced sooner. Certainly, bringing Jose Correa on late to play as a lone striker and giving him little service made his appearance completely ineffective.
The defense lived most of the game on the edge as well. At this point, having a nervy performance and earning a draw or win would be great, but Chivas had to know they could only sustain so many shots off the post by the Crew (I counted two). At one point, Dan Kennedy gave up on a play, assuming he was beaten, and he was, except the ball went off the bar. It took him a long second to adjust and see the ball was still live. I think DK has been hung out to dry an awful lot lately, but he's lost his edge and apparently his confidence as well. It can't be easy to let in so many goals, but the team got increasingly sloppy as the game wore on, and in the end, losing late isn't a surprise at all.
The Minda/Joseph situation has no resolution: I hate to admit it, but I was hoping Chivas would win in part so that Shalrie Joseph may not become an automatic starter moving forward. I have not been impressed with him at all, with the exception of the New England Revolution match, and I think his presence has upset Oswaldo Minda's game at defensive midfielder. In this game, Minda started on his own with Joseph serving a yellow card suspension. Minda played well, but he got another yellow card and will have to serve his third suspension of the season this weekend. Meanwhile, the Goats lost, so that airtight argument I was hoping for didn't come through. So against D.C. United, Joseph will almost certainly be back, Minda will be suspended, and the resolution to the "dilemma" in defensive mid will continue to elude Chivas.
Has the team consulted a psychologist? This may sound facetious, but it's not. If Chivas haven't hired a sports psychologist yet, they need to, badly. If they somehow already have one, they need to fire the current one and hire a new one. For weeks, the players have been reiterating, implicitly and explicitly, that they have lost their collective belief, and anybody who's been watching the last couple months can see the point in each match when their belief vanishes. It is a contagious virus at this point, and it seems everybody is infected. It likely won't transform the team's form this year, and there are obviously other problems to deal with, but Chivas are stuck in last place in the West and need to do something to jumpstart the team. Talking to a sports psychologist may be a little off the wall, but it's worth a shot, right?
Looking ahead: Chivas will take on their final Eastern Conference opponent this season when they travel to RFK to face D.C. United Sunday. Chivas have a short turnaround, but United's turnaround will be even shorter, as they play the Philadelphia Union Thursday.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!