The gameplan was reversed Saturday night, as Chivas USA defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 at the HDC. No, the result wasn't different, but the Goats scored early, then had to hold on for deal life late to preserve three points. It was nervy stuff, but in going against past iterations of Chivas USA, this group could actually manage to let in fewer goals than they scored over the course of 90 minutes. Plus, they broke history and got their first-ever win over the Whitecaps.
Chivas opened the scoring in the 12th minute, when Carlos Alvarez, getting his second straight start, sent a diagonal cross to the far post that was deflected off Vancouver midfielder Jun Marques Davidson and past goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Although there were mixed reports about whether it would count as an own goal or not officially, it seems pretty clearly to be an OG, and it is currently listed as such on the MLS website. No matter, I doubt many people will complain about it.
Chivas doubled the lead in the 55th minute, when Jorge Villafaña, getting his first start of the season, sent in a cross into the box from the left. Eric Avila hit a clean volley off the cross to slam it past Cannon. It was a terrific goal, his first for Chivas. But Vancouver were determined to climb back into the match, and second half substitutes Erik Hurtado and Kenny Miller contributed to the visitors' goal, as Hurtado hit a sharp shot that forced a save from Dan Kennedy in the 64th minute, only for the rebound to fall right to Miller, who headed it in easily. Chivas nearly gave up a late equalizer when another sub, Kekuta Manneh, got away on a counterattack, but Kennedy and Manneh collided and the ball trickled just wide of goal in injury time.
With that, let's go over some of the talking points of this match:
Lucky Goats? Last season, if Chivas could somehow get a lead, they were bound to lose it. It was like clockwork. Much of that was related to skill, but there were certainly some unlucky bounces thrown in as well. Five games in, I gotta say, it looks like the luck is evening out. Camilo, Darren Mattocks, and Daigo Kobayashi had a combined 13 shots for the match, and couldn't convert on any of them. Sure, some of them were poor, but Kobayashi and Mattocks in particular had outstanding chances they couldn't get into goal. Plus, given the fact that Chivas essentially conceded possession for the final half hour of the game, and had to weather the Whitecaps' wave after wave (no pun intended) of attacks isn't really a great strategy for getting the win, especially with a goal conceded to narrow the lead.
I realize it is pretty pessimistic to lead off the talking points from a gritty victory by saying it was essentially lucky, but that's how I'm feeling. It worked today, it won't work much of the time, but they got the three points, and the determination to stick it out was great to see.
What a goal by Avila: So if Alvarez's goal was, ahem, lucky, Avila's was pure class. The midfielder has quickly established himself as an automatic start on the right side, and he's joint leader on the team in assists at this point. For him to get the goal, and such a beautiful one at that, was great to see. Chivas have seven different players who have scored this season, to go with two own goals on the season. They continue to lead the league in scoring, even though they are
16th 8th* in shots on goal! Can they maintain this remarkable efficiency?
* When I looked at the team stats last night, they still hadn't been fully updated, so Chivas went from having 13 SOG to 20 after the match. Apologies on jumping the gun there.
Terrific start to the season: Chivas leave March with a 3-1-1 record. Did you really think they would get off to such a good start, even if you thought they would be pretty good this season? Chivas may not be the only surprise team in MLS in the first month, but they may ultimately be the biggest surprise, since nearly all of MLS considered them DOA this year. Chelís has to be given a great deal of credit for getting this team off to such a hot start - it appears that foreign coaches with no MLS experience can shake up things successfully from time to time. But the fact that this team is getting the job done with the players at hand is about as remarkable. No big-name expensive DPs on the roster, most of the team without MLS experience, and most of the roster very young, yet they are getting the job done. It has really been a great month, and hopefully the Goats can do much more over the next seven months of the season.
Looking ahead: Well...Chivas' game originally scheduled for next week has been postponed so that their opponent, the Seattle Sounders, can focus on their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series. That means Chivas has an unexpected bye next week. Will they be able to keep up the momentum after a somewhat-unexpected break? We won't know until the Goats host the Colorado Rapids April 13.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!