SAN DIEGO -- There were the obvious pluses for Chivas USA in its first real game of the year: a very fine first half, complete with a one-goal lead; superb play from John Alexander Valencia in the back, Nick LaBrocca in midfield and Michael Lahoud and Ryan Smith on the flanks; James Riley's continued mastery at right back; another goal from rookie Casey Townsend.
They paled next to those pluses disguised as torment Wednesday night, when an overly physical encounter with Club Tijuana turned on a slew of yellow cards and then a red.
By the time it was over, the Xolos -- just two points off the lead in Mexico's top division -- were celebrating a 5-2 triumph at the University of San Diego's Torero Stadium in a friendly that was not very friendly at all.
Lahoud finished a superb ball from Smith to give Chivas USA a first-half advantage, but newcomer Miller Bolaños was sent off after elbowing Bruno Piceno five minutes into the second half, and that was that.
Raul Enriquez evened things three minutes later, Mauro Gerk scored a go-ahead goal that didn't appear to cross the line in the 65th minute, and Tijuana added goals on their final three shots of the half to pull away in the second San Diego Clasico, played before 4,238 fans garbed mostly in red and black Xolos shirts.
It was an often ugly encounter, with 36 fouls, seven yellow cards -- five of the them to Chivas in the first half -- and the red to Bolaños, which was a blessing, sort of, in disguise.
“There's no such thing as a friendly game ...,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said afterward. “It's part of it, though, and it's part of the experience, and it's part of getting ready for the competition of MLS. So it's good that we got a game like this.
“It's a wakeup call, certainly from the mentality of preseason games. For us, it's good to be in that sort of environment.”
The Goats had a very fine first half, with LaBrocca and Oswaldo Minda providing a foundation behind Bolaños in midfield and solid backline play, especially by Valencia, who cleaned up a Riley miscue that gave Tijuana a chance and stepping in to block a shot that might have done damage.
Smith and Lahoud, who have been forces on the flanks all preseason, hooked up in the 36th minute. Smith stripped Alejandro Molina -- one of three former first-choice players in the Xolos' fully reserve lineup -- then pushed the ball past and leapt over him as he slid in afterward. That sent the Englishman into space on the right, and Lahoud was at the far post to deposit the cross.
Things started going wrong just before halftime, when Carlos Rubio played the ball too far in front and leapt at it, taking out left back Ante Jazic. The Canadian veteran was prone on the ground as play continued, and Smith was cautioned after confronting Alex Mariscal, reminding the referee that this was a exhibition, not competition, and safety was the No. 1 priority.
It never seemed that way. Mariscal was confronted by Chivas general manager Jose Domene and assistant coach Carlos Llamosa at halftime, and although he didn't pull the yellow as often in the second half, he sent off Bolaños in the 50th, and Tijuana was in command the rest of the way.
“Certainly, I was comfortable at 11 v. 11 that we were doing the things we needed to do to win the game,” Fraser said. “Once you go down a man, it changes the dynamic completely.
“It's an exercise still where you're down a man, where you have to deal with it. I don't think we dealt with it as well as we should have. There were a lot of questionable things that happened tonight, and I think we showed a lot of fight for a long period, and it was difficult. It was a difficult and frustrating night.”
Leandro Fernandez was key off the bench for Tijuana.
He set up Gerk's go-ahead goal -- a header that bounced up, was fumbled by Dan Kennedy but seemed to stay out of the net. Linesman Eduardo Mariscal thought otherwise, ruled it a goal, and Chivas was feeling robbed again.
Fernandez made it 3-1 with a 30-yard blast to the upper-right and he added another goal in stoppage. Townsend, a pure finisher, scored in his second straight appearance, a glancing header from a LaBrocca free kick. "It pays the bills," Townsend quipped afterward.
A little good, a little bad, a lot of frustration.
“You still have to remember this is a very new group, and they're still getting to know each other and getting to understand each other and each other's tendencies,” Fraser said. “And this is part of the learning process. You have to go through some tough times.
“It's very rare it's all peaches and cream from the beginning. You have to go through some tough times and you grow as a group when you go through these.”
WORTH NOTING: Chivas has added a game Friday afternoon against Loyola Marymount to its preseason schedule. Kickoff is 12:30 p.m.; no word yet on which field at Home Depot Center. Fraser's game roster will feature those who did not play Wednesday. ... Forward Cesar Romero, whose signing was announced earlier Wednesday, played the final 22 minutes plus stoppage in front of family and friends. Romero is from San Diego and was playing for the indoor team in Tijuana before joining Chivas as a trialist. ... Jorge Villafaña is in the U.S. under-23 national team camp in Frisco, Texas, in advance of next Wednesday's game against Mexico's U-23s. ... Joe Corona, who heads to the U.S. U-23 camp this week, was with Club Tijuana but not on the game-day roster. ... Esteban “Stevie” Rodriguez (Palmdale/Bell Gardens HS), whom Tijuana signed out of Chivas' academy (and who was training with the Goats' first team to start preseason camp), was on the Xolos' game roster but did not appear.
Torero Stadium, University of San Diego
Chivas USA 2, Club Tijuana 5
C -- Michael Lahoud (Ryan Smith) 36
T -- Raul Enriquez (Miguel Almazan) 53
T -- Mauro Gerk (Leandro Fernandez) 65
T -- Leandro Fernandez 79
T -- Noe Maya pen. 82
C -- Casey Townsend (Nick LaBrocca) 88
T -- Leandro Fernandez (Raul Enriquez) 91
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; James Riley, John Alexander Valencia, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic; Oswaldo Minda, Nick LaBrocca; Michael Lahoud (Cesar Romero, 69), Miller Bolaños, Ryan Smith (Alejandro Moreno, 69); Juan Pablo Angel (Casey Townsend, 70).
Club Tijuana: Adrian Zermano; Antonio Madueña (Miguel Almazan, 46), Carlos Rubio, Jose Alfredo Tahuilan, Armando Pulido (Alejandro Lopez, 72); Ismael Iñiquez, Noe Maya, Alejandro Molina, Bruno Piceno; Raul Enriquez, Mauro Gerk.
Yellow cards: Piceno 17, Minda 22, LaBrocca 28, Bolaños 35, Smith 43, Jazic 47+, Molina 87. Red card: Bolaños 50.
Referee: Alex Mariscal. Att.: 4,238.
CHIVAS USA PRESEASON
Record: 2-5-0; vs, MLS: 1-3-0
Jan. 27 vs. Ventura County Fusion (PDL), 60 mins.: L, 0-1
Feb. 3 vs. FC Hasental (NPSL): W, 5-0 (Lahoud 22, Angel pen. 24, Smith 40, Cortez 50, Romero 89)
Feb. 7 vs. Colorado Rapids: L, 0-1
Feb. 11 vs. Chicago Fire: L, 0-1
Feb. 14 vs. Montreal Impact, 60 mins.: W, 1-0 (Townsend 2)
Feb. 16 vs. Galaxy: L, 2-3 (Lahoud 53, Romero 77)
Feb. 22 vs. Club Tijuana (Mexico): L, 2-5 (Lahoud 36, Townsend 88)
Feb. 24 vs. Loyola Marymount University at Home Depot Center
Feb. 27 vs. AIK (Sweden) at Portland, Ore.
March 1 at Portland Timbers
March 4 vs. San Jose Earthquakes at Portland, Ore.