It was certainly a night of mixed emotions, as Chivas USA played better overall but had an identical result to last week, losing 1-0, this time to Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. Unlike last week, RSL's goal came in the run of play, but Chivas botched their best chance of the game yet again, and have to head home with no points to show for their performance.
RSL started out well, and Chivas looked to be under the gun from the start, but Dan Kennedy did well to cover for his suspect back line, who could not deal with the speed of Salt Lake's forward Olmes Garcia early on. Kennedy had a huge save on a Luis Gil shot in the 16th minute, and the Goats slowly made their way into the game, much as they have during their best matches this season.
The Goats got a golden opportunity in the 35th minute, when Ned Grabavoy was judged to have handled the ball in RSL's box during a corner kick. To be honest, it looked pretty soft, and I guess the old "Ball don't lie" trick came to haunt Chivas, as Edgar Mejia's subsequent penalty kick was saved comfortably by Nick Rimando.
Despite the miss, Chivas nearly went ahead just before halftime when Carlos Alvarez found space in RSL's box and hit a cross/shot that went just inches wide of the far post. Unlike the missed PK, Alvarez's chance was terrific but it would have been pretty remarkable had it gone in.
As it was, Chivas were left to face a deficit from the 53rd minute, when Alvaro Saborio sent Javier Morales a nice cross at the edge of the 6-yard box, and Morales headed it past Kennedy. Morales isn't known for his heading prowess, but the duo linked up well on the play.
The game was wide open for the next 15 minutes or so, but RSL gradually locked down the match, and Chivas acted out in the waning moments. First, Chelís argued with both Javier Morales as the midfielder was slow in leaving the field on a substitution, then he, and his coaching staff, engaged in a shouting match with RSL coach Jason Kreis and his bench. Following that, Chelís and his staff reportedly walked off the field before the final whistle. On top of all that, Mejia received a straight red card in the 94th minute for an arm to the face of Grabavoy, and Mejia evidently didn't dispute the call, as he sprinted off the field and into the locker room.
With that, let's go over the talking points of the game:
Tough night for Mejia: In theory, giving Mejia penalty kick duties sounded like a good idea, since he has been the main set piece taker for the team this season, and maybe leaving the goal-starved forwards (aka, those not named "Juan Agudelo") out of the mix was best for everybody. Furthermore, Nick Rimando has saved more penalties than any goalkeeper in league history, and he didn't cheat on the play, so full credit to him for getting the stop. But all that aside, squandering a penalty for the second straight week is a problem. Mejia tipped his hand pretty clearly on the kick, and obviously didn't put enough power on it to beat Rimando, and that's a bad thing. Again, missed PKs happen, but for two of them to happen back-to-back, and with the team losing points in each match as a direct result of them, it's a problem.
On top of that Mejia's red card shows not only the breakdown of discipline late in the game, but it presents a real headache for next week's match, since he'll be suspended. If Oswaldo Minda will be healthy in time for the next game, that will boost the team, but that isn't assured. In addition, Mejia takes almost all of Chivas' set pieces, so other guys are going to have to step up. And if Mejia and Minda are unavailable, coupled with the injury to Daniel Antunez, Chivas have Marvin Iraheta as their only real holding mid. Considering so much of Chivas' game is built upon their ability to control the midfield, that red card could really haunt Chivas.
And while we're talking about suspensions: Bobby Burling is showing that he's ready to take Oswaldo Minda's mantle as the yellow card king, as he's racked up his fifth yellow card, and will have to sit the next match too. He's also the first player in the league to get suspended for five yellows, so he truly is following in Minda's footsteps. With Burling out, will Walter Vilchez be ready to play next week? He estimated a return in "2-3 weeks" earlier this week, so he probably won't be ready. Chelís replaced Mario de Luna late in the first half with Carlos Borja, so Borja could be the option, or Steve Purdy could finally get his debut with the first team. Still, the losses of Mejia and Burling could prove pretty significant next week, especially if the injured players can't recover in time.
The performance was better overall, though: Look, the talking points coming out of the game are going to be mostly negative, but Chivas actually played much better this week than they did in the loss against Colorado. They were not able to press much, but knowing how RSL liked to pass the ball in a rhythm, they tried to position themselves to block lanes and intercept passes, and it seemed to work rather well overall. Their link-up play was better, and in the end, the possession was nearly even, and the shots on goal were equal for both sides. The Goats lacked the crisp finishes that carried them through their unbeaten streak, but it was still sharper than last week.
I also liked Tristan Bowen coming off the bench and playing as a winger or wide forward in the second half. Showing the skills he demonstrated during his brief 2012 spell of playing time, Bowen had some solid crosses, and ran at defenders well from a new position. I think Chelís should keep this flexibility when it comes to Bowen, who just hasn't looked likely to score when positioned as a traditional striker.
And Dan Kennedy had yet another sharp night. Despite not getting that elusive clean sheet, Kennedy really kept Chivas in the game once again, as he had four saves, and they were quality. Kennedy continues to lead the league in saves (interestingly, Rimando is currently second), and without his stops, RSL truly could have won by three goals. As ever, thank goodness for DK!
Looking ahead: Chivas hosts the San Jose Earthquakes next Saturday. The Quakes don't play until tomorrow, but they have been pretty up-and-down so far this season, primarily because they've had a ton of injuries. Alan Gordon can't possibly score against Chivas next week, though, since he's out because of a four-game suspension. Can the Goats get back on track next week?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!