In a match that looked like the best remaining chance for a win this season, Chivas USA took care of business Saturday, beating Toronto FC 3-0 at the Home Depot Center. It was a strong effort among the whole team, but the player who will garner all the headlines will be Juan Pablo Angel, who scored two goals and put in a very strong 90 minutes. He opened the scoring in the 12th minute, when Justin Braun fought through a tackle and passed the ball to Ante Jazic, who crossed it into the box to Angel, where he headed it past Stefan Frei. It was a nifty combination, and was a good omen on the evening.
Chivas controlled possession through the first half, but Toronto started to wrest possession back in the early going of the second half, and the game was pretty open for the first twenty-five minutes of the second half. But TFC couldn't get many actual chances in that period, and Chivas made them pay, when Michael Umana, playing at right back in this match, crossed the ball into Braun, who headed the ball in to double the lead in the 71st minute. To cap off a strong night, JPA got his second on the night in the 77th minute when he got a pass from Ben Zemanski, wrong-footed the defender, and hit a nice angled shot into the net. It was Angel's 5th goal in just 3 games, and he has six goals altogether in six games with Chivas this season.
With that, let's discuss some of the key themes coming out of this match:Change of pace: Lately, Chivas have had a lot of defensive weaknesses. They have been giving up a lot of goals on set pieces, but another major issue all year has been containing speedy attackers. Fortunately, TFC had no real speed on the field, which played perfectly into Chivas' hands. This game made it clear that a wish list for next season will include a consistent defender who can not only keep good positioning but can neutralize opposing attackers with pace. Instead, Danny Koevermans looks to be a target forward, and Chivas were able to dictate the possession of the game to prevent him from getting many chances. In the situations where Koevermans did get his head on the ball in the box, Andrew Boyens was able to mark him effectively.
Lineup shift: Speaking of Boyens, it was his first action since June 25, and he had a good match. Perhaps TFC had a really off night, but this performance doesn't really quiet the critics of Robin Fraser who have wondered why Umana has been preferred to Boyens as starting center back. But credit goes to Umana as well, who moved over to right back and had a very good night on both ends of the field. Zarek Valentin was on the bench for this match, and I'm not sure if he was held out for squad rotation or to help him recover from his quad injury, but without him and without Heath Pearce, who according to Fraser 'tweaked' his hamstring injury yesterday in training and did not dress, it looked like the Goats were going to have a long night defensively. Instead, the backline performed as a unit and even chipped in with assists.
I also noticed that Ben Zemanski got another start, and got an assist of his own. Zemanski in many respects is the swiss army knife of this team, and it was a bit unfortunate that he got buried in the depth chart when JPA, Laurent Courtois and David Junior Lopes joined the club in the transfer window. I suspect that he could be getting some playing time here at the end of the season to see if he can play as the deep-lying central midfielder moving into next season. Simon Elliott has played quite well and remained pretty healthy this season despite his advancing age, but I'm not sure if he'll be back next season. If he's gone, then Zemanski could slot in Elliott's role next year, where his ability to work both defensively and offensively will be on full display.
Great delivery on the goals: Two of the three goals were headers, and the crosses that came to Angel and Braun, respectively, were excellent. Obviously, this has been what Ante Jazic has been doing all season, but it was nice to see Umana get in on the act as well. Additionally, at one point Lopes won a ball in Toronto's box when he saw open space, and helped to keep play alive, although it did not lead to a goal. I suppose it was one of those nights for Chivas, where even new center backs tried to get in on the action without disrupting the regular order.
But the goal scorers deserve a great deal of the credit. Seriously, five goals in three games is pretty great from any player, but with a guy with as much baggage as JPA, it's all the more remarkable. His third goal in particular was silky smooth, and a flashback to his heyday in MLS with the New York Red Bulls. May he stay forever young (at least while he's with the Goats). As for Braun, I thought he had a terrific night, and the goal was a just reward for his hard work. The initial formation was a 4-3-3, to match the same formation that Toronto used, but Braun and Moreno were allowed to run all over the field to find the ball and make space for other players. Moreno drew some fouls, which is his specialty, but Braun really took a pounding on the night while he played with his back to goal and held onto the ball for his teammates to make a run. His ability to keep the ball through a poor tackle led to the first goal, and his header for the second goal was placed in a very tight spot just inside the post. All in all, it was a good effort and good result for both Braun and Angel, and hopefully they can ride this confidence for another month.
Looking ahead: Chivas continue their homestand to end the season by hosting the Philadelphia Union next Sunday. The last time the two clubs met, on June 25, Philadelphia won 3-2 in a wild game where Chivas were able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (or at least a draw). After leading the Eastern Conference for much of the season, though, the Union are currently sitting in 9th position overall, and are in some danger of falling out of the playoffs. Can Chivas make it two wins in a row and further damage Philly's playoff hopes? We'll have to wait until next weekend to find out.
What did you think of the match? Leave a comment below!