CARSON -- There's plenty for Chivas USA to improve upon following its Major League Soccer opener Sunday afternoon, but the finish against the Houston Dynamo, who pulled out a 1-0 victory with nearly the last boot of the game, dampened the Goats' spirits only a smidge.
Chivas was organized, spirited and battled evenly, more or less, all afternoon with the club that played in last year's MLS Cup final, and if everything didn't quite click -- especially on attack -- there was more than enough reason for optimism.
“I'll be honest,” said midfielder Peter Vagenas, who made his Chivas debut in central midfield. “Like a lot of people, I wasn't sure what we had. ... We have character, we have heart, we fight. The soccer wasn't ideal, but let's be realistic. This team hasn't played together very much. We're facing a team that's got, I mean, how many games have Brad [Davis] and Brian [Ching] played together at this point? Right?
“At some points it was disjointed, we didn't get the service in to Juan [Pablo Angel up top], and that was frustrating, but at the end of the day we were tough, we were organized, we fought, and I promise you it's only going to get better.”
Chivas looked sharper and stronger than at any point during preseason, created four clear scoring opportunities -- with Angel volleying off a post with one and three headers, two by Angel, off-target -- and benefited from another big game by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who solved whatever problems surfaced until almost the end.
The Goats were seconds from a 0-0 draw and a share of the points, but defender Andre Hainault lifted Houston two minutes into stoppage after Davis' corner kick was cleared. It fell outside the box to Adam Moffat, who possesses a rocket shot, and his blast appeared to deflect to Hainault.
Chivas' backline was racing forward, as it should, so Hainault was left 1-on-1 with Kennedy. The finish was simple.
“It's a tough one,” said right back James Riley, one of seven players making their club debuts for the Rojiblancos. “In practice this week, our whole focus was set pieces, because we know that's what Houston lives and dies on. I thought we defended it well, guys jumped out to the second ball and tried to block it and prevent it, and it was just one of those things that are unlucky.
“That happens. For it to happen in the 90th minute was absolutely gutting. It's a cruel game sometimes. Very cruel game.”
Head coach Robin Fraser thinks so, too, but he's always been a realist. “Just or unjust, we have to finish out plays, we have to finish out the game,” he said. “We have to be really clinical in front of both goals. … Almost doesn't mean all that much, does it? At the end of the day, when you look back at this result, it's going to be a 1-0 defeat, and that's reality.”
Chivas defended well, dominated possession for stretches yet rarely turned its time with the ball into chances. The debate over formations -- the 4-2-3-1 with a triangle midfield or the flatter 4-4-2 -- ought to heat up after the Goats finally found some connections after switching to the more customary alignment.
Angel too often was stranded up top, and although Laurent Courtois and Ben Zemanski worked hard on the flanks, there wasn't much created from the flanks, and nothing at all from the right. Chivas didn't connect on a cross from the wing until the 70th minute, after Englishman Ryan Smith had come on. Angel nodded his serve over the crossbar.
Angel said he had more room to move and better support once Cesar Romero came on in the 59th minute, spurring the swap to the 4-4-2, and then first-round draft pick Casey Townsend entered in the 77th. His preference, he said, is “to play with someone who plays with me, but at the end of the day, Robin has to decide which formation is better.”
Fraser's postgame message to his players: “There's no need and no sense in hanging our heads.”
“We're a group that's building,” he said, “and if this game is a starting point for what is a relatively new group, I'm encouraged about where we're going to be.”
Kennedy noted that Houston had a first-choice, veteran lineup, and “we were in the mix. They're one of the better teams in the league, and we battled them for 90 minutes. I don't believe we deserved to lose that game. At the same time, I'm not sure we deserved to win it. I think a tie would have been a pretty fair result.”
WORTH NOTING: Fraser said winger Michael Lahoud likely would be out “another couple of weeks” with a hamstring strain, but that Colombian defender John Alexander Valencia, who missed with a quadriceps strain, was in consideration to play. Ecuadoran midfielder Miller Bolaños was left off the 18 to present a more balanced bench. … Making debuts for Chivas: Vagenas, Smith, Riley, Romero, Townsend, holding midfielder Oswaldo Minda and center back Rauwshan McKenzie. ... The starting XI had just four players from last year's opening day lineup: Zemanski, fellow midfielder Nick LaBrocca, and defenders Heath Pearce and Ante Jazic. ... As Vagenas noted how well Chivas fought in the game, his 3-year-0ld son piped up: "You fight? Daddy, I don't like it when you fight." ... Chivas replaced the postponed MLS Reserve League game Monday against the Galaxy with a friendly against the L.A. Blues. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. at HDC's Track and Field Stadium.
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Chivas USA 0, Houston Dynamo 1
H -- Andre Hainault (Adam Moffat) 92+
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; James Riley, Rauwshan McKenzie, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic; Peter Vagenas (Cesar Romero, 59), Oswaldo Minda; Ben Zemanski, Nick LaBrocca (Casey Townsend, 77), Laurent Courtois (Ryan Smith, 65); Juan Pablo Angel. Unused subs: David Junior Lopes, Tim Melia, Alejandro Moreno, Jorge Villafaña.
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe; Brad Davis, Adam Moffat, Je-Vaughn Watson, Colin Clark; Brian Ching (Macoumba Kandji, 86), Will Bruin (Calen Carr, 77). Unused subs: Tyler Deric, Luiz Camargo, Nathan Sturgis, Jermaine Taylor, Cam Weaver.
Yellow card: Watson 51.
Referee: Silviu Petrescu. Att.: 14,464.