Chivas USA entered the match feeling they had at least a shot at a result. They exited the match with their metaphorical tails firmly between their legs, as mistakes compounded on each other to produce a 4-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City Sunday at Sporting Park. There were two main narratives on the day, and neither one was flattering to the Goats.
Chivas were able to maintain a stalemate for most of the first half. Although their attack simply could not get going - they had zero shots on goal on the afternoon - their defense seemed to do a customary bend-not-break job until the 41st minute, when Claudio Bieler received a pass from Graham Zusi in the box, and avoided an onrushing Dan Kennedy by dribbling to the side, then beating the only man standing on the goal line, Joaquin Velazquez. At that point, the game seemed like it was already out of hand, which was a bad sign considering there was still 50 minutes to go.
The increasingly-shambolic defending, which was one of the main narratives of the game, was overshadowed by the other storyline in the 54th minute, when Dan Kennedy, coming off a week in which he signed a contract extension, clipped former teammate Paulo Nagamura in Chivas' box, conceding a penalty and receiving a straight red card in the process. Although the ejection was judged by some Chivas fans to be overly harsh (and the contact was there, but wasn't excessive) it was a red card-worthy offense by the laws of the game. Not only were Chivas down a man yet again this season, but they lost the one player who can't really be replaced, and who will have to miss the next match as well.
Patrick McLain stepped into the situation to make his MLS debut in Kennedy's stead, and faced a PK on his first action, which Bieler converted easily. From there, the situation went from bad to worse, as SKC scored two more, first in the 65th minute, when Graham Zusi poked home a cross from substitute Josh Gardner, and then in the 87th minute when sub CJ Sapong hit another sharp cross past McLain, this one from Meshack Jerome.
Whew. That's quite a lot of badness. Let's go through some of the talking points of this match:
Experience made a big difference: The last time Chivas USA suffered a lopsided loss this year, it was against the Columbus Crew, one of the more MLS-experienced teams in the league. In this game, Chivas faced another team with plenty of MLS experience, and it certainly showed. Chivas have clearly been working on winning second balls this season, and often do it pretty well, but the team that is probably best at it is SKC, and so they almost entirely shut Chivas out on that front in this match. In addition, Chivas looked sluggish on the attack, and had to defend more and more as the game went on, but SKC didn't let Chivas get into their box on the day, period. Jimmy Nielsen has gaudy stats, but a significant reason for that is that the team in front of him takes care of and even prevents chances before they even make it to him.
Chivas have played well this season more often than not, but they still lack regular league experience on a roster-wide basis. If Chivas and Sporting had been at the same level of stability and was in the same stage in their development, the game might have been much closer, but Sporting was clearly more comfortable playing Chivas than vice versa. Some of that is due to talent, but some of it is also down to experience of playing together and playing in this league.
Defense getting figured out? Chivas got slammed to start the year with plans for a three-man defense, but Chelís has stuck with it more often than not, and it has been surprisingly effective. Still, Chivas haven't won since March, and while the attack has sputtered since Juan Agudelo came out of the lineup with injury, the defense has also looked weaker and weaker.
Here's the question: can the problems with the defense be pinned on who's actually playing, on the fact that injuries and suspensions have led to improvised lineups, or on other teams figuring out what's working and what's not?
That's not an easy question to answer without seeing more performances. Clearly, injuries and suspensions hurt the team, and that's just part of the game. The actual players on the roster? We'll need to see more games overall to see if trends really emerge.
But the third option, whether teams may be understanding how to break down Chivas' defense, is more concerning. If teams have enough game tape to figure out what to do on the Goats, then we could be in for more of these performances, and it won't be pretty. Again, it is hard to know one way or the other necessarily at this point (this could be just a blip) but it is something to keep an eye on.
Offense needs work: At the most, Agudelo will probably remain on this team only through this season. He has dealt with injuries before, and having him out so long is concerning. But even if he is the spark for Chivas, there needs to be more attacking going on every game, since they won't be able to count on him for very long. Jorge Villafana had the game's only shot, and it was deflected way out of bounds. I get that the team was under pressure on the other end, but they made things remarkably easy for SKC, since they didn't really have to work at all in dealing with quality chances from Chivas, because there weren't any. If the defense looks shaky, the attack looks like it has sputtered to a halt, with the exception of the second half of last week's game. Some changes really need to be made on the training field there.
Looking ahead: Chivas don't have a midweek game, but their next opponent, the Portland Timbers, do. The Goats will face the resurgent Timbers up in Oregon next Sunday. Will the rest benefit the Goats, or do they need to get this game out of their systems as soon as possible? One thing we do know: McLain or Tim Melia will get the start in goal, since DK has to sit out a game. Gulp.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!