Jose Luis Real's Chivas USA had their hands, or rather feet, full once more on the road against the Philadelphia Union Friday night, as they lost a heartbreaker 3-1. With rainy and wet Philadelphia being their end to a three-game road trip, the Goats once more took a one-goal lead going into the second half. Optimism was running high after three straight ties for the Goats.
They got off to a great start with Chivas forward Jose Correa netting his first goal of the season in the 14th minute off a beautiful assist from Jorge Villafana. Chivas' early score left Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath with little opportunity to make a save after Amobi Okugo slid on the wet ground. This score would not be enough for the Goats as the second half led to three successive Union goals by Brian Carroll (58'), Michael Farfan (82') and then the clincher by Conor Casey (89').
The call that led to Farfan's goal was unquestionably the turning point in the game. In the 79th minute, referee Jorge Gonzalez judged Edgar Mejia to have made an intentional back pass inside the box, calling an indirect free kick inside the box for the Union. Chivas USA crowded around the ref, arguing vociferously about the call, and Josue Soto, on a yellow card, bumped Gonzalez, picking up a second yellow card and his marching papers. Soto will be suspended at least one game, possibly more, for his actions, and Chivas will surely face sanction for "mass confrontation," which is a new rule in MLS this season, where players are not supposed to crowd around the referee and shout in his face.
But the replay revealed that the back pass was suspect at best, as Conor Casey touched the ball between Mejia and Dan Kennedy. The referee did not have the benefit of that replay, however, and Farfan buried the resulting set piece for the winning goal.
Here's what the match taught us:
No more yellow cards: Being aggressive is important for both offensive and defensive posturing throughout a match. However, yellow cards in the goal box by Chivas USA defenders have now proven detrimental for the Goats for two straight weeks. Last week against IMFC, Mario de Luna was judged to have committed a penalty on Sanna Nyassi in the box that led to a Patrice Bernier equalizer. This week it was Josue Soto's second yellow, forcing a red card ejection, which led to an indirect kick in the box. The Union's Sebastien Le Toux touched the ball to Michael Farfan who buried the shot slightly above both the Chivas defensive line and goalkeeper captain Dan Kennedy in the 82nd minute. This second goal was the fourth yellow card for the Goats, with Walter Vilchez and Marky Delgado picking up one each with Soto's two, in this pivotal match. The red card and its accompanying goal appeared to destroy the Goats' confidence in their ability to even up the game. Casey scored the third goal only seven minutes later in the 89th minute. Game, set, match.
Building blocks: This marked the fourth straight match where Chivas did not concede the first goal of the match. Early leads have proved to be a successful formula for the Goats as they took their three straight ties into Philly. Today did not follow suit as the Union followed Chivas' opening strike with three goals of their own. Nevertheless, only losing once in four games is a definite accomplishment when compared with the preceding seven-game losing streak. The Goats also appeared to be moving the ball well and becoming more comfortable with each other on the pitch. Familiarity with the squad will improve both communication and knowledge of strengths and weaknesses.
Kennedy continues to be the foundation, but it is clear that his backline needs to shore up opponents' opportunities for shots on goal. Chivas were outshot on goal attempts by a factor of three as the Union tried 21 to the Goats' 7. This lopsided differential coupled with Chivas' 21 fouls, 8% negative difference in pass completion and 13% less possession time, doomed any chance for success that the Goats had. Fullbacks Marky Delgado, making only his fourth start, and Soto were often left alone trying to defend a relentless Union attack from all angles and distances. Danny Cruz, Michael Farfan and Casey all had four or more shots on goal while applying constant pressure. Coach Real now has a clear picture of what areas need improvement and can formulate a game plan to adequately address such concerns.
A change is gonna come: Although Chivas lost the match, one can't help but consider how close this match was going into the final ten minutes. One questionable call prior to Soto's second yellow, which was controversial to say the least, changed the entire dynamic of the game. Without the call, a tie was within reach and even possibly a rare road win had they not been forced to play with a man down.
Nevertheless, Chivas has made some great recent moves with transfer acquisitions Carlos Bocanegra and Erick Torres. Neither player was able to suit up for today's match, but both should hopefully be ready for Wednesday's (July 17th) game back home in California against Toronto FC. The rumor mill is becoming even more intriguing with the possibility of uniting Bocanegra with former Goat and World Cup veteran starter Jonathan Bornstein. Another signing or two would be tremendous, but Chivas can certainly build on the fact that they have lost for only the first time in the last four. More positives are sure to come as they continue to progress as a team and organization.
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