Well, to paraphrase Sven Goran Eriksson, the first half was good and the second half was not so good Wednesday night for Chivas USA in their 5-2 loss to Club Tijuana. In spite of the volume of goals in the final scoreline, Tijuana only scored their first goal in the 57th minute, then went on to open the floodgates over the remaining half hour of the match. Meanwhile, Chivas had two good goals on the night, but the defensive performance was certainly worrisome overall.
Chivas opened the scoring in the first half. During a somewhat disjointed half for the Goats, Ryan Smith made an excellent run with the ball from the middle of the field all the way into the box before sending a great cross to Michael Lahoud, who poked the goal home from about two yards out in the 36th minute. The Goats then hung on for the next twenty minutes of match time, but the game turned when Miller Bolanos received a second yellow card in the 50th minute and left Chivas down a man for the bulk of the second half. I didn't think the first yellow card was warranted, but more on that in a bit.Chivas held on for just a few more minutes, before Raul Enriquez scored off a corner kick in the 57th minute. Then, in the 64th minute, Mauro Gerk headed the ball at Dan Kennedy, who stopped the ball but stepped back in the process. The linesman awarded the goal, which upset Chivas players as they didn't believe the ball went over the line. In the 79th minute, Leandro Fernandez hit an emphatic shot from range to cap the victory for the Xolos. But the scoring wasn't over. A penalty was awarded in the 82nd for a foul in the box, and Noe Maya converted it easily. Chivas got a goal back in the 88th minute when Casey Townsend headed the ball in off a Nick LaBrocca set piece, and seemed to perk up for a moment. But Enriquez stole the ball from Heath Pearce in injury time, and passed it off for Fernandez to finish. That's right, six goals in just over 30 minutes, but Chivas only had one of them.
What are some talking points coming out of the match? Let's go over a few:
The Physical Nature of the Match Did Not Suit Chivas
This match didn't seem like a friendly whatsoever, and it was a very physical affair. In part, Chivas were clumsy and their preseason rust showed, so that contributed to it, while Tijuana did a good job selling a fair number of minor to nonexistent fouls to the referee. As a result, Chivas had five yellow cards in the first half to the Xolos' one, and there did seem to be a different standard in handing out yellow cards between the clubs. As a result, it was clear within the first half hour of the match that a red card, and perhaps more, was inevitable.
While Chivas vacillated between being overly aggressive and sustaining contact from Tijuana, the trajectory of the game is a good lesson for the team heading into a season. We all know that MLS referees can be, ahem, inconsistent in their standards, and many teams play in a very physical manner in the league. So while Bolanos' first yellow card, given for kicking an opponent, did not seem like a yellow card to me as the Xolo actually kicked Bolanos on his follow through, this is a scenario that could very well happen when the matches count. Chivas learned they need to work on their defensive focus, especially when shorthanded, and they'll have to use that as a central objective in the homestretch of the preseason.
And the defense looked like last year's vintage
I think Chivas played a "bend but not break" defense in the first half, and it was of course successful, yellow cards notwithstanding. It still seems like players are working to gel as a unit, and that's fine, but the mistakes and near-mistakes were unfortunately very reminiscent of the team's defensive shortcomings last season. Robin Fraser was hired and made his central goal last offseason to turn Chivas into a good defensive unit, a goal that was inconsistently upheld during the year. Based on tonight's performance, those experiments with a two-man defensive midfielder corps look to be a pretty good idea.
Also, a note about Pearce's giveaway for the fifth Xolos goal. It was a very sloppy play, and he knew how badly he had been outplayed by Enriquez, slapping the ground in frustration and spending the last moments of the match with his head lowered. It was an awful mistake, and frankly if it was at a televised and high-profile match it would have followed him for awhile. However, it was a preseason friendly with a limited number of eyes watching. He should bounce back fine, as he's a professional. But for the sake of those of you who didn't see it, I hope we don't see anything like it again.
Smtih and Lahoud looked good
I can see why Fraser moved Lahoud back to midfield. He played well on the offensive end and probably could have merited a yellow card on a couple occasions when he hip-checked Tijuana players while defending. He seems to have a good chemistry with Smith on the wing, and it resulted in the goal. But Smith looked very dangerous on the night, and seemed to bring something to the field that Chivas did not have at all in 2011. He was eager to run with the ball and take on defenders, and while he couldn't get any major chances in the second half he tried to generate offense, which is good. More of this please, and more of the promising Lahoud-Smith winger partnership!
A good night for the old-school Xolos
A quick note about Tijuana: Gerk and Enriquez were integral parts of the team when they were in the second division, and have been marginalized since the club was promoted to the Primera. It was nice for them to get a nice performance on the night, although I wish it didn't have to be against Chivas USA.
Good night for the Chivas fans
While the majority of the crowd was pro-Xolos, Chivas had a good contingent of fans at the match. In particular, the Union Ultras and Black Army ended up joining up and chanting and singing from the goal end of the stadium, a visible and vocal presence throughout the match. I spent the first half sitting in a section of the stadium away from the Chivas supporters, and they were by far the loudest and only continuously vocal segment of the crowd. At one point, a group of Xolos supporters near me woke up and started chanting when a video camera was pointed in their direction, then promptly quit when the camera was turned off. I realize fans can follow their team in a lot of different ways, but Chivas fans, including those who drove down from LA and thereabouts, did the fanbase proud. And it was a chance for LA and San Diego Chivas fans to meet up, so success on that front as well. Hey, we got to take the good with the bad, right?
Coming up: Chivas take on Loyola Marymount Friday in a scrimmage before heading up to Portland for the Timbers' preseason tournament. Can Chivas take the performance tonight and make successful adjustments? We'll find out soon enough.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!