Chivas USA resumed league play on the right foot, taking advantage of a makeshift Real Salt Lake side and pulling out a 1-0 victory Saturday night at the Stub Hub Center. Despite the positive result, there remain steady reminders that this team has a way to go to be where it needs to be. On the other hand, considering the team only had 2 wins on the season prior to the game, a win is a win and the showing was nothing short of a success.
Here are 10 observations from the game:
1. A Switch in Formation - For the second consecutive week, Wilmer Cabrera has shelved the 4-2-3-1 and gone with the 4-4-2. On paper, the switch does give the Goats more options on the attack with 2 forwards, but since most of the midfield has been assigned defensive duties, the attack seems to be only oriented towards the counter. The move coincided with Oswaldo Minda's departure to Brazil, so it will be interesting to see what happens next week now that Ecuador has been eliminated from the World Cup.
2. Give the Barrera/Cubo partnership some time - It's refreshing to finally give Erick Torres a strike partner and I do believe that Leandro Barrera can be as good of a fit as Thomas McNamara was earlier in the season, but that will take time. On Saturday, Barrera left a lot to be desired, although that may not have been entirely his fault. He was positioned so high and isolated along the left side of the field that he became disjointed from the rest of the attack. He had a bit of difficulty connecting in the final third and if you count his crosses, he was 7 of 19 on all attempted passes, or passing accuracy of 36%.
Despite this, a Barrera/Cubo attacking tandem has shown flashes of promise in their two games together and it will take some time to get that chemistry brewing.
3. "The Goal"- Cubo's golazo has to be an MLS goal of the year nominee and the first touch volley into the back of the net shows how technically gifted he really is. He's turning into the type of player where you don't want to take a bathroom break or you might miss something special and his strike against RSL was no exception. The goal puts Cubo atop the list of most prolific Mexican-born MLS goal scorers with 17. (Kudos to Tony Lochhead for the pinpoint accuracy on his floater).
4. Man of the Match: Donny Toia - Barrera's recent move up top essentially created an open spot at right back since Eric Avila moved from the position to take over Barrera's former spot. Donny Toia has proven to be versatile enough to fill in in defensively and has been the most consistent defender on the CUSA roster - a wonderful surprise considering he started the season as a young trialist. Against RSL, he did a great job moving up on the attack, making overlapping runs with Rosales, and didn't shy away from putting his long shot accuracy on display. He's been so reliable at right back that I wonder if the newly acquired Akira Kaji will fill in the depth chart as his backup.
5. Couldn't capitalize on the early red - Considering the circumstances, CUSA should've put this game away early and never should've of been in the position of protecting the three points in the closing minutes of the game. The team had almost three weeks to prepare for this home match and were a man up for 80 minutes against a team that was already without three of its best players. Yet from the get go, RSL dictated the flow of the game and CUSA was content to sit back, put eight men behind the ball, and play a disjointed form of counter ball. Despite the man advantage, they couldn't seem to maintain possession (45 percent) and were never really able to get anything together on their attacks as a result of their bad decision making.
6. Avila couldn't get it going- As good as he was in providing help in the midfield, Avila was limited to only 25 touches in 73 minutes and wasn't able to get involved against RSL. As a result, possession on the left side of the field was usually short-lived. If anything, Avila, who was free to roam, provides a bit more reliable defensive cover in the place of the offense-first Barrera.
7. Defensive Issues - While the back four did show decent organization and keep good lines, there remained a bit of confusion resulting from poor communication and spacing. When you're already lacking in pace and athleticism, you have to compensate with high levels of communication and technicality.
On a side note, I found it interesting that for the majority of the game, the back four played deep, but switched to a higher line late in the game. While this may have been the result of RSL opening the game up with a desperate push to equalize, it should've happened much earlier as the advantage and opportunity was there.
8. Offensive Transitions - While Cubo did drop down to help defensively on certain occasions, for the most part the two forwards stayed high with the hopes of capitalizing on the counter. This should be fine in theory, but the gap between the forwards and the mids usually led to the loss of possession via forced longball passes or Barrera or Cubo being outnumbered with no help around them.
9. Difficulty Finishing - CUSA finished with 19 shots on goal, 8 of which were on target and none of which were blocked. Despite this, they were only able to score one, and that came off an incredible wonderstrike. RSL was coughing up the ball in the midfield, so there wre a good amount of easy breakaways yet CUSA couldn't seem to get off a decent enough shot to put the game on ice.
10. Clean Sheet! - Offense aside, the defense put together a decent showing and it was great to see them hold off RSL and not cough up those three valuable points at home. The clean sheet marks the first shut out in 20 games, or just two in their last 29. Closing games has always been an issue for CUSA so this performance was a step in the right direction.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!