In a game worthy of a intracity derby, Chivas USA dealt with a controversial red card, a late goal by their opponents, and a dramatic equalizer to earn a 1-1 draw Sunday against the LA Galaxy at the HDC. Midfielder Carlos Alvarez, making his first professional appearance, stepped up in the nick of time to give Chivas USA a well-earned point. As Matt Hoffman said in the gamethread, moral victories are usually frowned upon in pro sports, but this was a moral victory if there ever was one.
The game was very physical, and Chivas were ultimately called for 22 fouls (as opposed to the Galaxy's eight). Chivas did get the yellow card train rolling, but this was the first game in which their opponent earned a yellow card as well. But the turning point in the game came in the 40th minute. Referee Ricardo Salazar, who appeared to have lost patience with everybody associated with Chivas USA early on, confusingly pulled out a yellow card, then a red card in quick succession to Joaquin Velazquez for a challenge to
Robbie Keane Colin Clark* in the 40th minute. It was later determined that the yellow card was a mistake and Salazar intended to give Velazquez a straight red card, but replays showed that the challenge probably wasn't even a foul, and Keane sold it for all it was worth. Probably Salazar's impatience with Chivas' physicality came back to haunt Velazquez in this instance as well, and that's obviously too bad. The veteran defender was incredulous, and even the Galaxy's TV announcing crew made it clear they didn't think the challenge was even a foul, let alone a red card.
* Update, March 18: I realized I incorrectly identified the Galaxy player involved with Velazquez's red card. Colin Clark was involved in the challenge, and sold it to the hilt, not Keane. Apologies on the mix-up.
So, things looked remarkably dire heading into the second half. What helped Chivas was the fact that they actually played better than the Galaxy in the first half overall, and the Galaxy just couldn't click all day. It appeared the game could actually go to a 0-0 draw, but in the 83rd minute, substitute forward Jack McBean scored on a header in the box to give the Galaxy the late lead. Although past iterations of Chivas would have thrown in the towel at that point, Chivas managed to score on their only shot on goal of the match in the 89th minute. Eric Avila sprung substitute Carlos Borja through with a wide pass on the right, and the defender sent in a terrific low cross through the box that Alvarez reached the end of and blasted past a sleeping Carlo Cudicini. It was a just ending to a terrific performance for the Goats.
With that, let's go over the talking points from the match:
Obviously, the fall out from Salazar's day: You'll notice in these virtual pages I almost never comment on the referees. For the most part, I think bad calls are the breaks of the game, and generally speaking, the calls even themselves out over time anyway. But I think Salazar had a rough day. I realize that Chivas' persistent fouling and the evident chirping they were doing at him from the sideline was wearing on him, but it seems pretty clear that Salazar erred significantly in two decisions. First, he gave Velazquez the red card. Then, in the second half, he missed a blatant red card by Sean Franklin on Josue Soto. As you can see in the above photo for this article, Franklin kicked Soto square in the upper chest with his studs, but got no card for that challenge (and even if he only got a yellow for it, he was already on one, so he should have gotten a red card either way). I think "make-up calls" are generally stupid because they lead to even worse officiating, but not only did Chivas deal with an unfair red card, they also didn't get the benefit of an opponent getting sent off.
One has to wonder if Chivas will appeal Velazquez's red card (seems unlikely, simply because the process involves investing a significant amount of money as a "bond" to appeal, if the regulations are the same as last year, and we know Jorge Vergara would rather let a player sit unjustly than pay money), or if the MLS Disciplinary Committee will issue any action to Franklin for kicking Soto. As always, we'll have to see how that goes.
The fight carries on: Chelís emphasized fight, and it happened once more, arguably in even more impressive fashion. It is also interesting to see that while Juan Agudelo and Tristan Bowen lashed out at arguably unfair refereeing calls in the season opener, the team was pretty calm throughout this match, even when the calls went against them. The roster overhaul has clearly paid dividends in that respect, because most of the players on the field in the second half had little to no recent experience with Chivas USA, and didn't feel burdened by persistent losing. Dan Kennedy's body language after conceding McBean's goal was pretty brutal, and with the small amount of time remaining in the match, a comeback was frankly a tall order. But only three players on the field in the second half played through the brutal stretch last season, and it really seems like the other seven players helped pick them up and keep them focused on the task at hand.
Chelís' sub patterns and personnel changes working: I really admire the fact that Chelís isn't afraid to pull the trigger on lineups and subs. He starts three forwards in Agudelo, Julio Morales, and Jose Correa, gives them a chance, sees it isn't working, and partially for that reason and partially because of the red card, pulls Morales and Correa and replaces them with Alvarez and Borja, all by the start of the second half. Both Alvarez and Borja were making their season debuts, as was Josue Soto, a surprise start in place of Laurent Courtois on the left. All three players came up big, and while Alvarez (and perhaps Borja to a lesser extent) will get the majority of the attention from the tying goal, Soto had a terrific game in his MLS debut. In the first three games, the coach has been ridiculed for burning his subs in a hurry, but in all of them, his subs have been effective, and in two of them, it lead to comebacks and points. This guy can make adjustments in a game, no doubt.
Looking ahead: Chivas goes to play the other Chivas in a friendly in Ciudad Juarez midweek, then it's off to Chicagoland for a proper road game against the Chicago Fire next Sunday. Although the Goats are gaining confidence, and the Fire currently sit in last place in the league, Chivas can't get ahead of themselves. They might be slight favorites heading into the match, but hopefully the team plays reserves in the friendly and keeps their eyes on the collective momentum they are building in MLS play so far this season.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!