Well, that was not what we expected. Chivas USA lost Saturday to Real Salt Lake 1-0 on an 11th minute goal from Alvaro Saborio. Despite playing up a man for most of the game after Nat Borchers received a straight red card within the first half hour, the Goats could not capitalize on the advantage and have now dropped two straight matches within a week. It is a disaster for their playoff hopes, as they will need to win almost all of the remaining seven games to have a hope of getting in. It seems the season is slipping away for Chivas and the lofty expectations will not be realized this year.
With that, let's go through some of the talking points from the match...Again, a defensive lapse kills Chivas: Dan Kennedy had another good game, but Saborio's goal was caused by such a bad defensive error that Kennedy never had a chance. Ante Jazic sent a back pass to David Junior Lopes, who got his first career MLS start on the night with Zarek Valentin and Michael Lahoud out injured. Lopes had an awful night, and he didn't take the threat from Saborio seriously until it was too late and Saborio latched onto the pass. Kennedy tried to come out and cut off Saborio, but he was on the back foot and the striker easily beat him. From there, the quality chances from RSL were few, but that wasn't because Chivas were playing well but because Borchers left them down a player. It is the sixth straight game that the defense has looked shaky, and as I continually wrote until this week, Chivas were getting away with major mistakes in game after game, and their luck would run out sooner or later. It seems this week that has happened with a vengeance. Although to be fair Lopes' yellow card for kicking Chris Schuler in the head was probably lucky for Chivas as he easily could have gotten a red.
Pearce's injury - potential major cause for concern: Heath Pearce left the game in the 60th minute with a hamstring injury and was substituted straight away. The television telecast reported that he had a grade one right hamstring strain. If that is indeed the case, then perhaps Pearce won't miss any time, as a grade one strain is the least severe, and Chivas don't play again until September 10. But if he does have to miss time for the Goats it could be catastrophic. Pearce is clearly the rock of the defense and without him, and with the recent injuries to Valentin and Lahoud, Chivas had a backline in this match constructed with duct tape: Mariano Trujillo at right back (his actual position, but he is third choice right back), Ante Jazic as center back (he normally plays left back), Lopes as center back (1st MLS start, 2nd MLS appearance), and Jorge Flores at left back (played defense in the past in spot duty, but played at left wing all season). They looked remarkably shaky but they did not concede, though surely nobody would feel safe with that group in those positions in future games.
No attack with teeth in second half: For the 20 minutes or so after Borchers was sent off, Chivas had a pretty good looking attack and seemed like they could get an equalizer. And then halftime came, and they lost all their momentum. I'm not sure if they couldn't make adjustments to RSL's defensive approach on the fly, or if the team was just not on the same page in attack, as they really couldn't get a rhythm going in the second half. They controlled possession, but RSL did a good job of clogging the middle of the attacking third and allowing Chivas to play out wide. Unfortunately none of Chivas' wingers and full backs could get challenging crosses into the box. Instead, they seemed to put it in the same spot over and over again, and RSL knew exactly where to intercept them. Additionally, the forwards couldn't get service up top, and so Juan Pablo Angel dropped further and further back to get the ball. Players could not find space to be where they needed to be, and so they overlapped with each other or were nowhere near where they needed to be to get to a pass on an attack. It was an impotent night on the whole, especially in the second half, and Chivas have to be really upset with their inability to capitalize on their gilt-edged opportunities.
What's next? Chivas have now put themselves in a huge hole for the playoff chase, but there is still some hope. Their next four matches come against DC United (2 games), the Chicago Fire, and Toronto FC. None of these games will be easy, but if Chivas can bounce back and win all four games, they will get right back in the hunt and will likely only need two points in their final three matches to get in, which comes admittedly against stronger opposition (Philadelphia Union, LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders). So while I am totally down on the squad in the immediate aftermath of this loss, if Chivas can redouble their efforts in training over the next two weeks and come back ready to kick ass September 10, then the ship can be righted yet. The pressure is on, and the Goats need to respond positively.
What did you think of the game? Of Chivas' performance this week? Do they still have a shot at the playoffs? Leave a comment below!