The most exciting newcomer for Chivas USA this year? It might be Cesar Romero, the forward from San Diego who has spent his career with little clubs -- one of them indoors -- but has taken his chance with the Goats to heart.
Romero, 22, netted his fourth goal of the preseason Thursday night, and if it wasn't enough to beat the Portland Timbers, it should have been. Lax defending on a corner kick enabled the home side to pull out a 1-1 draw in the second of three doubleheaders in a four-team tournament, a match that drew 15,195 at Jeld-Wen Field.
Romero provided a 21st-minute advantage for Chivas, nodding trialist Alan Souza's cross from the right powerfully between the slight space separating Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and the right post.
Romero has been a handful for opposing defenses in nearly every one of his nine preseason-match appearances, and he was rewarded eight days ago with a contract. He's a nice foil for Juan Pablo Angel or rookie Casey Townsend, especially when Chivas uses a 4-4-2 alignment, as they did Thursday, rather than the 4-2-3-1 head coach Robin Fraser has employed during most of the buildup toward its March 11 Major League Soccer opener.
“[The goal] was certainly a result of hard work and desire,” Fraser said afterward. “It was the result of good, aggressive team play.”
With better fortune, the Goats could have added to their lead. A sharp cross caromed off Townsend's head to challenge Gleeson shortly after Romero struck, and Rauwshan McKenzie beat Gleeson to a header following a corner kick that Chris Taylor cleared off the goal line.
Portland got its goal in the 78th minute. Chivas' backline was caught flat-footed on a corner kick into the goalmouth, and rookie Ryan Kawulok, who signed his contract earlier in the day, beat trialist Scott Gordon to push it past Goats keeper Tim Melia, who was sharp all night.
“At the end of the day, the guys are getting into 90-minute fitness,” Fraser explained. “Set pieces in Portland are always going to be a big part of the story. They have a lot of big guys, and at home they thrive on them.”
Portland possesses one of the most rabid fan bases in MLS, and although the crowd was a little smaller than the group that saw the Timbers tie San Jose on Monday night, it provided a glimpse of regular-season atmosphere for, especially, Romero and Townsend.
That, Fraser said, was “very important. You see this environment throughout the year, and this is as difficult as it gets. Both were completely unfazed. It was a great experience for them to get to play in front of this crowd.”
WORTH NOTING: Gordon, who arrived in camp last week on trial, went the full 90 at right back, his first full match since last year's NASL season with Fort Lauderdale. … Chivas completes its preseason schedule Sunday against San Jose in the final Portland doubleheader. … The Earthquakes and Swedish club AIK drew, 0-0, in Thursday's first game. AIK (1-0-1) is in first place; Chivas (0-1-1) is last.
PORTLAND TIMBERS TOURNAMENT
Jeld-Wen Field (Portland, Ore.)
Portland Timbers 1, Chivas USA 1
C -- Cesar Romero (Alan Souza) 21
P -- Ryan Kawulok (Kalif Alhassan) 78
Portland Timbers: Jake Gleeson (Joe Bendik, 46); Lovel Palmer (Ryan Kawulok, 60), Eric Brunner, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Chris Taylor; Freddie Braun, Jack Jewsbury (Diego Chara, 46), James Marcelin, Brent Richards (Kalif Alhassan, 66); Sebastian Rincon (Jorge Perlaza, 75), Bright Dike.
Chivas USA: Tim Melia; Scott Gordon, David Junior Lopes (John Alexander Valencia, 46), Rauwshan McKenzie, Ante Jazic (Jorge Villafaņa, 46); Alan Souza (Michael Lahoud, 46), Nick LaBrocca (Peter Vagenas, 63), Ben Zemanski (Oswaldo Minda, 71), Laurent Courtois (Miller Bolaņos, 63); Cesar Romero, Casey Townsend (Juan Pablo Angel, 46).
Yellow cards: None.
Referee: Chris Penso. Att.: 15,195.
CHIVAS USA PRESEASON
Record: 3-6-1; vs, MLS: 1-3-1
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: W, 4-0 (Townsend 10, 40, Souza 19, Romero pen. 49)
Feb. 27 vs. AIK (Sweden): L, 0-2
March 1 at Portland Timbers: T, 1-1 (Romero 21)
March 4 vs. San Jose Earthquakes at Portland, Ore.