Carson, California. Optimism is rarely a word associated with Chivas USA. However, this afternoon's home match for the Goats really had us all feeling it. Years of poor management coupled with humiliating play on the pitch definitely causes more than a moment of caution when thinking positively about the Goats. Today would be different. Today would be good. Today would generate points (again).
Or a point, so to speak, as the Goats hosted the Vancouver Whitecaps and finished tied at a goal apiece. The 1-1 final score was nothing to frown upon though because the Goats secured that point playing the match almost entirely with one less man.
All of the potential optimism began to dissipate as the Goats' midfielder Agustin Pelletieri picked up a red card and was ejected in only the 13th minute of the match over a very questionable call. Almost automatically, thoughts began to swirl about last season's several blatant red card ejections that almost all directly let to a Goats' loss. Today would be different though as Pelletieri's ejection seemed to unite the squad almost uniformly as a cohesive unit defending and passing with precision and direction. This was a welcome sight to see for fans who have become used to seeing a breakdown almost instantaneously after poor disciplinary mistakes on the field.
Chivas opened the match's scoring in the 45th minute to virtually end the first half. The Caps' Nigel Reo-Coker had a horrendous giveaway where Mauro Rosales was able to find Erick Torres for his shot on goal. Cubo's shot deflected off World Cup veteran Jay DeMerit and rolled right by the outstretched diving arms of Caps goalkeeper David Ousted.
The Goats first and only score wouldn't be enough to secure three points as the Caps equalized in the 81st with a beautiful shot by Kekuta Manneh off an assist from Darren Mattocks. Although demoralizing, this equalizer didn't sink the Goats. They held both firm and fast and even countered to almost achieve back-to-back last minute wins in their opening two matches. This Chivas team is certainly proving to be quite different from its predecessors.
Here's what we learned from today's game:
Start strong. Scoring first usually means that you aren't forced to score last. Breathing room, confidence and assertiveness are all increased when you score first in a contest. Chivas now have four points through their first two games and have scored first in both of those. Last week, Chivas secured the win against the Chicago Fire after scoring the game's first two goals. Characteristically, of last year's team, the Goats surrendered two straight goals to the Fire for their equalizer. However, this is a different team with different results. These Goats regrouped and scored a late game-winning goal off a brilliant Bobby Burling header. Today, Chivas scored first and then managed to hold on to a point in spite of playing ten versus eleven.
Along with scoring first, Chivas also played remarkable defense. Even with only ten men, the Goats admirably managed to not surrender even one shot on goal through the entire first half. Lock-down defensive efforts are precisely what goalkeeper and captain Dan Kennedy hardly saw last year as he was under constant pressure and shots from whatever opposition Chivas faced.
Avoidance of costly errors. Red cards do not help you win games. Again, red cards do not help you win games. Such was case throughout all of last season where consequential bookings directly resulted in numerous losses for our Goats. In keeping with our theme, this is a vastly different squad with and entirely new attitude. There was no flagrant self destruction, communication breakdown or deflation of wills. Instead, Pelletieri's controversial ejection appeared to unite the team into a common direction of reducing errors and maximizing opportunities.
A change is gonna come. Chivas USA is now a new team under drastically different ownership (MLS), coaching (Wilmer Cabrera) and players. Clearly the process has truly began to take form as an organizational change was necessary from the top down. Of the ten position players, excluding goalkeeper, five are new faces to Chivas USA. Goats' starters: Pelletieri, Leandro Barrera, Mauro Rosales, Tony Lockhead and MLS Super Draft rookie Thomas McNamara, along with his iconic mullet, are all starting their first two matches for the Rojiblancos.
Additionally, Eric Avila was an occasional starter in the Goats' midfield last season until new head coach Cabrera saw potential elsewhere. Chivas beat writer Blair Angulo quotes Cabrera even indicating Avila's potential for the U.S. Men's National Team based on his strong play as a right fullback. Avila's transition has been virtually seamless and he appears to be a lock to help lead a more formidable defensive back line.
Defender and Chicago game winner Bobby Burling may have said it best last week with noting that the "page is turned." To fans of the Goats, it is quickly becoming apparent that the Goats' efforts are directly leading to positive results.
Next Saturday the Goats travel to Dallas with the hopes of securing more points in their ever-improving season. The main difference between last season and this one is now there's a likelihood and sincere belief in the ability to accomplish that goal. Let's go get a few more points!