For the second time this season, a hat trick from Justin Braun pushed Chivas USA to victory. This time, it was against the Houston Dynamo, who beat Chivas 2-1 in the last meeting on June 11, and sent Chivas into a tailspin with that loss. This time, Chivas were on their game and Houston was sluggish and disconnected as a group. The first goal came in the 31st minute off a toe poke on a terrific Ante Jazic cross, the second came on a well-timed lob over Houston 'keeper Tally Hall in the 40th minute, and the capper came in the 86th minute on another poke off a Jazic cross. Tonight's effort brings Braun's goal tally to seven for the year, which is quite healthy, but it is important to remember he has only scored in three matches. But this is a good occasion, so no need at the moment to dwell on his shortcomings, and instead hope that this is the beginning of an extended return of Braunzilla!
Below, some of the talking points coming out of the victory:New formation, new result: Robin Fraser has used a standard 4-4-2 for most of the season, but against Houston he mixed up the formation. Ante Jazic was back from injury, and was slotted back in at left back, while Michael Lahoud was pushed up into the midfield. While the match commentators called in a 4-5-1, with Braun as the lone striker, I thought of it more as a 4-1-4-1, with Lahoud providing defensive cover and Simon Elliott not having as many defensive responsibilities. Whatever the actual formation, it seemed to work tonight, and while Houston did not have very many chances, Chivas were able to get bodies in place for set pieces and prevent good opportunities. And with Braun playing so well, one forward was all they needed on the night.
Defense back on track: Chivas got a clean sheet for a second consecutive week, and the third in the last four games. This month, they have allowed two goals in five games. Dan Kennedy was tested a bit early on, when he punched a few corner kicks and free kicks out of the box, but he didn't have too much to do on the night. Considering the performances he's had lately, he's allowed a relatively easy night, but full credit to him and the backline for keeping their concentration a full 90 minutes and maintaining not only a lead, but also a clean sheet.
A good win, but let's not get carried away: Not to pour salt into Houston's wounds, but they looked pretty bad in this game. After the first goal, they played pretty listlessly, both before and after Je-Vaughn Watson's 2nd yellow card in the 70th minute. Besides a very close miss from a Will Bruin rocket in the second half, Houston did not have much of an offensive spark, and they gave up possession easily and often. Coming into the game, I thought Chivas and the Dynamo were pretty evenly matched, but after seeing them actually play, Chivas dominated the game and fully deserved to win. Perhaps there is something about the Home Depot Center that lulls opponents to sleep? It's happened for the second straight week. The good news is that Chivas woke up this week and were able to move beyond last week's sluggish performance. They got a win against a team they needed to beat. Now, let's hope they can elevate their performances against better sides and get some more wins.
Braun makes a case: Justin Braun had a great game tonight, no doubt. All of his goals came on single touches, and his positioning for the passes for all three goals was fantastic. Ante Jazic's return to the lineup was a huge boost for the Goats, as made a few timely tackles and chipped in two assists. But this game was a statement for Braun, who is making a case that he belongs on the field, even after Alejandro Moreno returns and the anticipated striker Chivas will be obtaining comes to the team. Like I said, 7 goals is a pretty healthy tally, but Braun will need to parlay this into a more consistent goalscoring contribution. Let's hope this is the beginning of a strong second half of the season for Braunzilla.
Random Thought: Is Marcos Mondaini out of the loop? I thought he was playing really well, and then he picked up a knock on his knee, and has missed a lot of time since then. Is this injury-related or is he out of favor with Fraser?
Looking ahead: Chivas travel to Pizza Hut Park on Sunday July 31 to take on FC Dallas. It will not be an easy game as Dallas look to be one of the top sides this season, but Chivas nearly tied Dallas in their last match in June, and will have a full eight days to prepare for the match, while Dallas have a CONCACAF Champions League game on Thursday against Alianza in El Salvador. Chivas will look to make another statement around the league, or at least grab a point on the road.
What did you think of the game? Leave a comment below!