Carson, California. Welcome to the second half of the MLS season as well as back from the global World Cup break! Chivas USA looked to begin the remainder of the season on a positive note as they hosted Western Conference powerhouse Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center.
Erick Torres opened up (and concluded) tonight's scoring with a beautifully trapped and struck first touch off a Tony Lochhead pass in the 35th minute. The go-ahead volley occurred with Chivas up a man after Luke Mulholland accrued a red card in only the 9th minute of the match. His ejection provided the Goats with a formidable advantage over a depleted RSL squad on the road.
A second score almost occurred in the match's 69th minute as Leandro Barrera almost found Torres again on a cross Unfortunately for the Goats, RSL's defender Chris Schuler made a great save by sending the ball out for a Chivas corner. It was a great chance as was substitute Carlos Alvarez's shot in the 87th, but neither was needed as the 1-0 score held for the remainder of the match.
Count them out: one, two and three points earned!
Here's what we observed from tonight's match:
Rusty. Weeks off, for a beautifully played World Cup nonetheless, leads to a certain amount of rust for both squads. Fortunately, the U.S. Open Cup has at least allowed the Goats to freshen their legs and provide secondary players a bit of opportunity.
The rest may have done the Goats some good in order to regroup and regenerate into a more capable opponent for whoever they may face. Thankfully, tonight's opponent was RSL, a team that has been crippled by significant player absences for several reasons. Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman are still alive as the U.S. Men's National Team has advance to the knockout round to face Belgium this upcoming Tuesday. Additionally, RSL were without Tony Beltran, Carlos Salcedo, Alvaro Saborio and Ned Grabavoy. Speaking of World Cups, it was great to see 2010 USMNT forward Robbie Findley back on the pitch to make his first start, and only second appearance of the season, for the visitors.
Cubo. Erick Torres is the "man" for Chivas USA. Tonight marked Cubo's 10th goal of the season for the Goats. As wonderful as it is for Torres to rack up those goals, it's still disheartening to see the inability of anyone else to significantly contribute to the Goats' point totals. Next to Cubo is absolutely no one on Chivas' roster. Marvin Chavez, with two goals, is the only Rojiblanco other than Torres with more than one goal. It is imperative for the Goats to incorporate other scorers into the mix and provide Torres with a competent sidekick and alternative scoring option.
I saw red. Penalties are normally one of the main hindrances to Chivas' advancing in the standings. However, tonight saw RSL play a man down from the 9th minute on as midfielder Mulholland tackled Martin Rivero cleats up into his thigh. The studs up play resulted in both Rivero being levelled on the pitch as well as Mulholland's automatic ejection. His dismissal was a kind of reversal of fortune for the Goats as they're normally the club that is forced to play at a man disadvantage due to in-game red cards and/or PKs. Without question, the one-man advantage played an enormous role in keeping Chivas competitive and within reach of upsetting the second-best team in the Western Conference.
Chivas also demonstrated a far more clinical approach to tonight's match as they were able to minimize their own infractions as to not impact play on the pitch. The Goats did accumulate three yellow card infractions with Lochhead (19th minute), Mauro Rosales (47) and Donny Toia (50) all being warned by the officials.
Backline improvement. Chivas USA's backline have struggled all season. Normally spectacular, and always solid, Dan Kennedy has had a rough season to this point. Prior to this evening's clean sheet and through fourteen games, Kennedy was giving up 1.71 goals per game and had registered zero shutouts. Those number are both uncharacteristic as well as indicative of a defensive line that holds an enormous responsibility for racking up goals against their goalkeeper. Tonight's backline managed to hold RSL to zero shots on goal throughout the entire first half and played a significant role in completely shutting down RSL.
Many of the backline's problems have resulted from the inconsistencies in a starting lineup. Three different players, Lochhead, Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Toia have alone been responsible for holding down the left fullback spot. In the middle, Bobby Burling has struggled in several outings and his replacement, Eriq Zavaleta, has hardly been provided a sufficient opportunity to display his considerable talents. Additionally, right fullback Eric Avila, who has considerable speed and talent, has now been displaced to a central attacking midfield position with the hope of increasing scoring chances for Chivas' sputtering offense.
As clearly seen, several problems are prevalent and it may be time to begin experimenting with youngsters such as Michael Nwiloh or Matthew Dunn with the goal of discovering potential talent to challenge the incumbents. Hopefully, newly signed Akira Kaji will be able to lend a helping hand to a line that definitely could use some assistance.
Next week will see the Goats play two games, and three in eight days, on both Wednesday and Saturday. On July 2nd, Chivas will travel upstate to San Jose to face off against the Quakes. The Goats then return home on Saturday, July 5th, to compete against the Montreal Impact. Although it's two games in just a few days, these are all winnable matches that provide an enormous opportunity for the Goats to rack up 9 points and get right back into the Western Conference playoff picture. All is completely possible and can swing the season back in the right direction. All aboard!
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