To paraphrase Nick LaBrocca, it may have been a moral victory but it's a lot different than an actual victory. Chivas USA tied the Philadelphia Union 1-1 Sunday at the Home Depot Center. The game was sluggish for long stretches and the goals came in the second half, the first of which came when Justin Mapp put the Union ahead in the 59th minute on a long-range bomb. It should be noted that even if Mapp had decided to pass the ball ahead to the teammate making a run on that play, Sebastien Le Toux, Philadelphia probably would have scored anyway as Chivas' defensive woes reared its ugly head again. But they kept it to a goal and most of the rest of the match was Chivas trying to find an equalizer, which they did in the 90th minute off a Michael Lahoud cross to the far post, where a waiting Juan Pablo Angel scored his 7th goal of the season in a Chivas kit. His header on a tight angle showed yet another side to his game and his remarkable resurgence. It also maintained his streak of scoring double-digit goals for every season he's been in MLS.
With that, let's go over some of the big themes following the match.What is the future of Angel? It is probably not surprising, but Adam Serrano reported after the game last night that Robin Fraser was neutral about the prospect of JPA returning to Chivas next year. Considering none of his seven goals with the Goats have come on penalty kicks (since Chivas have no PK attempts on the season) his ability to contribute goals game after game has been terrific. And, he's currently only one goal behind team leaders Nick LaBrocca and Justin Braun on the season. But this also may be JPA's swansong, and he may retire or move onto another league to finish up his career and may therefore be digging deep to go out on a good note. This works for Chivas in the short term, and is certainly a valid option for Angel. Perhaps more realistically the issue will be the compensation JPA would want if he stayed in MLS next year. He is a millionaire in this league, and Chivas do not pay players salaries with seven digits. Perhaps Jorge Vergara and company will have a change of heart and re-sign Angel, but Chivas fans should know by now not to hold their collective breath on that possibility. Instead, let's enjoy this run for the last couple of games and see what happens moving forward.
The playoffs are unreachable: I know that Chivas haven't been mathematically eliminated so there is still some chance somewhere, but let it go. They currently sit only four points behind the 10th place team (currently New York Red Bulls), so if they won their last two games they could conceivably make it, but here's the kicker: there are three teams between Chivas and 10th place! So at least four teams would have to lose all of their remaining games to allow Chivas in. And setting aside that highly unlikely scenario, the pace for the playoffs has been 43 to 44 points this season. It doesn't mean a team can't get in with fewer, but if Chivas picked up maximum points against the Galaxy and Sounders, they would have 42 points.
So, best case scenario: many miracles happen upon each other, and Chivas get in the playoffs. Good case scenario: Chivas win both games and finish 11th or 12th. Possible case scenario: Chivas get something between 1 and 4 points in their last two matches. Worst case scenario: Chivas pick up no more points this season, and finish no higher than 14th.
Fullbacks getting involved in attack: One of the trends I've noticed over the course of the season is how much more integrated the fullbacks have gotten into the attack. At the start of the season, the onus was clearly on the defensive end, and all of the defenders stayed at home. Heath Pearce was the resident free kick and corner kick taker, but besides that, there wasn't much emphasis on the offensive duties for the defenders. And while Ante Jazic has put together a terrific season by leading the team in assists as a left back, Zarek Valentin was clearly given instructions to stay back as much as possible so as not to be caught out of position and stretch the defense too much. But since his injury and squad rotation with Michael Umana and Michael Lahoud as full backs, it provides a new element to the attack. Sure, their roles aren't revolutionary, as they are tasked to send crosses into the box, and turning crosses into goals necessitates forwards who can get on the end of balls into the box, but it clearly seems to be a skill they've been working on over the season. Moving forward, I hope there are some upgrades to the defense next season, and hopefully they are solid defenders (top priority) who can also contribute offensively.
Getting up for the rivalry: Coming up next for Chivas, following the international quasi-break, is the second match of the superclasico with the Galaxy on October 16. It's going to be televised on ESPN, so while we may have to sit through a couple of hours of Chivas USA being called Chivas of Guadalajara (since they called the Mexican club Chivas USA repeatedly on the network during the World Football Challenge this summer) it will be an opportunity to turn some heads in the derby. Can the Goats get up for it with nothing to play for except bragging rights? God, I hope so, or else it's going to be an ugly night.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!