Robin Fraser's first season in charge of Chivas USA ended as it started, in defeat, with the Goats dropping a spot in the standings and failing to surpass last year's victory total.
The Seattle Sounders, preparing for its playoff run, scored three second-half goals en route to a 3-1 triumph Saturday night at Home Depot Center, a deserved victory that sets up a first-round playoff series, starting next weekend, against Real Salt Lake.
Fraser and his staff now embark on postseason assessments, selecting which 11 players to protect before next month's Major League Soccer expansion draft, determining which players to invite back (and which to jettison), and taking the initial steps toward the 2012 season following an 8-14-12 campaign.
The loss, coupled with San Jose's victory over FC Dallas, sends the Goats from seventh to eighth in the Western Conference table, two points behind the Earthquakes and eight in front of last-place Vancouver. Chivas fell from 14th to 15th in the overall standings.
An Andrew Boyens own goal and fine finishes by Alvaro Fernandez and Riverside's Sammy Ochoa sent Seattle to a three-goal lead. Victor Estupiñan's header -- after Marcos Mondaini nodded back into the goalmouth a Mariano Trujillo cross from the right flank to the far post -- ended the Sounders' shutout bid in the 83rd minute.
Seattle (18-7-9), which finished second in the Supporters' Shield and Western standings to the Galaxy, suffered a potentially damning blow just five minutes into the game, when Ben Zemanski knocked knees with league MVP candidate Mauro Rosales, who just returned from an MCL sprain.
Rosales was stretchered off, holding his face in his hands, and pulled from the game (and Zemanski was yellow-carded, the first of several dubious decisions by overmatched referee Ricardo Salazar). Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said on the Sounders' telecast that he didn't think the injury was “as bad as last time.”
“It's a little more precaution than anything else,” he said. “Obviously, you're on high alert and you're concerned. Going into the game, you don't want anything [injury-wise] to happen, so that's important.”
A quick look at Chivas' defeat:
BEST PLAYER: The wide-open MVP race in MLS might be a slam dunk for Fredy Montero had he been healthy all season. He came into the game with 11 goals in his previous 11 competitive matches, and he more or less scored his 12th with Boyens' own goal -- it was his tricky footwork that created the tally.
He nearly danced his way to another one, earlier, creating space from nothing against David Junior Lopes to force a fine stop by Dan Kennedy in the 36th minute, sent in a perfect bending, one-bounce cross for Ochoa's goal, and was a handful for the Goats' defense from start to finish.
BEST GOAL: Fernandez's was terrific.
James Riley started it with a long ball from deep in Sounders territory for Ochoa, who sent it wide to Brad Evans. As Montero surged forward, into an offside position, Evans -- a former UC Irvine standout -- spotted Fernandez on the left flank and Chivas' defense pinched in the other way.
Evans' curling ball left Fernandez an open path to the net, and once in the box, he opened up and right-footed past Kennedy and inside the far post.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: Chivas' advantage in possession didn't translate to chances, but that's been a storyline for the Goats all season. All three goals were products of mistakes, even Fernandez's -- he was way too open on the left, with Trujillo pinched in too far. The own goal was a weird occurrence, with Boyens racing back to help out Zarek Valentin and somehow back-heeling the ball inside the left post. And Ochoa's header followed a giveaway in midfield and should have been stopped by Kennedy.
Two significant early calls went Chivas, costing it two goals -- although the offside flag that erased Juan Pablo Angel's early strike was correct. Salazar's inability to award a penalty kick after Jeff Parke handled a Nick LaBrocca shot in the 41st minute was a travesty; had he made the call, the outcome might have been different.
WORTH NOTING: Remember Estupiñan's preseason prediction that he would score 30 goals this year? His late strike was his first in MLS. He also scored four in MLS Reserve League play. ... Retiring Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller had virtually no work to do in his final regular-season game. ... Ante Jazic limped off early in the second half with a quad injury. Valentin moved to the left when Trujillo came on. ... Heath Pearce, who has been limited by a hamstring injury, was pulled at halftime for Boyens. ... Angel came off in the 75th minute after apparently tweaking a hamstring. It was likely his final appearance for the Goats -- his compensation, mostly paid by the Galaxy this season, is probably beyond Chivas' budget. Estupiñan was his replacement, making his first appearance since mid-July. ... Salazar awarded just one minute of first-half stoppage -- after Rosales lay on the turf for four. ... Seattle will finish with the most goals in MLS this season, with 56, unless the Galaxy scores 10 or Houston nets 15 in Sunday's finale. The chances of either: nil.
NEXT: 2012 season kicks off next March
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Chivas USA 1, Seattle Sounders 3
S -- own goal Andrew Boyens 53
S -- Alvaro Fernandez (Brad Evans) 68
S -- Sammy Ochoa (Fredy Montero, Roger Levesque) 73
C -- Victor Estupiñan (Marcos Mondaini, Mariano Trujillo) 83
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; Zarek Valentin, Heath Pearce (Andrew Boyens, 46), David Junior Lopes, Ante Jazic (Mariano Trujillo, 46); Blair Gavin, Ben Zemanski, Nick LaBrocca, Marcos Mondaini; Juan Pablo Angel (Victor Estupiñan, 75), Alejandro Moreno. Unused subs: Chris Cortez, Jorge Flores, Michael Lahoud, Zach Thornton.
Seattle Sounders: Kasey Keller; James Riley, Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez (Tyson Wahl, 81); Mauro Rosales (Roger Levesque, 10), Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Alvaro Fernandez; Michael Fucito (Sammy Ochoa, 64), Fredy Montero.
Yellow cards: Zemanski 7, Levesque 40, Evans 79, Montero 80.
Referee: Ricardo Salazar. Att.: 22,137.