Sometimes it takes a bit of skill, sometimes a bit of luck. Chivas USA needed both on a windy afternoon in Toronto to pull out another road victory Saturday, its third in a row.
Oswaldo Minda's first Major League Soccer goal, two clearances off the goal line and another outstanding 90 minutes from goalkeeper Dan Kennedy made the difference in a game, just like last week's, that changed its tale after halftime.
A week ago, the Goats answered a horrid opening 45 minutes with a superb second half to overcome Portland. This time, they held off a Toronto FC barrage following the break to claim a 1-0 victory, their third in three road games to push their record to 3-3-0 and climb, however early it might be, into the Western Conference playoff zone.
“I still don't think we're putting out a convincing performance, but as long we we get the three points,” defender Heath Pearce, who knocked away a late Ryan Johnson shot headed for the net to ensure the victory, told ESPN Los Angeles afterward. “We don't want to get complacent. It's another three points, but it's a long season, and we have to be consistent. That was the biggest [problem] last season, and we want that to be a thing of the past.”
Consistency was difficult in the conditions. A strong, cold wind blew off Lake Ontario, and when it was at Chivas' back to start, the game belonged to the Goats. They deserved more than just Minda's 31st-minute header from fellow Ecuadoran Miller Bolaños' corner kick, but created virtually nothing once headed into the breeze.
“It was pretty significant,” said head coach Robin Fraser, who has guided the Goats to back-to-back wins for just the second time in his 15½-month tenure. “It wasn't that it was impossible to play against, but it definitely helped the team that had it.”
Toronto utilized it more effectively than did Chivas -- they had 10 second-half corner kicks (Chivas had seven in the first half) and created a half-dozen genuine chances, with Pearce, Bolaños and Kennedy making heroic stops to keep intact the club's second shutout of the season. Johnson called Toronto's failure to score “mind-boggling. ... We could have had four or five goals.”
“I really think certainly in very, very important places tonight a lot of guys stood up and did very well,” Fraser said. “There were a lot of corners coming in late, and the guys were winning battles, winning headers ... Dan had a couple big saves again.”
The four biggest stops:
Bolanos, glued to the right post, nodding away Johnson's bouncing header from a corner kick in the 47th minute (after Rauwshan McKenzie cut off Johnson's fine run into the box).
Kennedy making himself big for a point-blank, gut save on Danny Koevermans' backheel from Joao Plata's cross from the left in the 70th.
Pearce racing in to clean the goalmouth in the 79th after Johnson got free on the left and fired from a long ball, a shot that Kennedy got a piece of but was headed on frame.
Kennedy's leaping one-on-one stop on Koevermans, from a give-and-go with Plata on a quick counterattack in the 89th.
Pearce described the second half as being “in kind of a panic ... you feel trapped, it's hard to get out.”
It wasn't good stuff, but it was good enough to even the Goats' record and send the hapless Reds to their fifth loss in as many league games.
“Last year we would have given up a goal late,” Pearce noted, “but this year we're creating our own destiny, putting it into our own hands to get results.”
The mammoth Minda was astoundingly good all of the first half and a good deal of the second: dominant defensively, exhibiting a little flair with the ball on occasion, and coming up big in the most vital moment, stepping in front of Johnson to nod near-post service from Bolaños low and between Terry Dunfield, guarding the right post, and goalkeeper Milos Kocic.
“I think he was again very strong, very solid,” Fraser said. “He makes a great run on the corner kick and scores the goal, and that was a huge goal for us. You watch him play more, and you see the experienced veteran we hoped he would be for us.”
The Goats return home for next week's game against Philadelphia (1-3-1), which won for the first game Saturday. They've dropped all three of their games at Home Depot Center by 1-0 decisions, and although they're on a run, it only means so much.
“We haven't done anything. We have to strive to be better,” Pearce said. “Look at how we got the result -- it's not the principles of how we'd like to get results. We like to play good soccer. It was extremely difficult for us to be in that situation in the second half, where you don't have the ball and are defending for the whole 45 minutes. Eventually, things will go wrong. ...We need to look at the big picture and look to continue to play good soccer as well as have that fight in us.”
WORTH NOTING: Five of the six Chivas games have ended 1-0. ... The Goats vaulted to fourth in the Western Conference standings, ahead of Colorado on goal difference, but they would drop to fifth if FC Dallas beats Montreal on Saturday evening. ... The three-game road winning streak is the second-longest in club history, two off the record set with four away wins to close 2008 and another at the start of 2009. ... It's the second time the Goats have won back-to-back games under Fraser -- and just the second in MLS play since October 2009. Chivas won successive matches once under Martin Vasquez in 2010, but the first was in a U.S. Open Cup game. ... Neither team put a shot on goal when playing into the wind. ... Kocic made diving first-half saves on Ryan Smith and Ben Zemanski. ... McKenzie was again superb at the back, making at least four huge stops. ... Smith exited near the end with an ankle injury -- he was clipped twice on his left ankle -- but there was no immediate prognosis. Forward Alejandro Moreno was limping early in the game but went the full 90. ... No Chivas debut for Paolo Cardozo, who was one of four unused subs. The former Galaxy midfielder retained his No. 30. ... Torsten Frings was on Toronto's bench but did not play. ... TFC, which hasn't made the playoffs in five MLS seasons, is off to its worst start.
UPDATE (9:30 p.m.): Chivas is fifth in the West following FC Dallas' 2-1 victory over Montreal.
BMO Field (Toronto)
Toronto FC 0, Chivas USA 1
C -- Oswaldo Minda (Miller Bolaños) 31
Toronto FC: Milos Kocic; Richard Eckersley, Adrian Cann, Miguel Aceval (Doneil Henry, 56), Antoine Morgan; Terry Dunfield, Luis Silva (Eric Avila, 71), Ryan Johnson; Reggie Lambe, Danny Koevermans, Joao Plata. Unused subs: Julian de Guzman, Torsten Frings, Ty Harden, Quillan Roberts, Matt Stinson.
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; James Riley, Rauwshan McKenzie, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic; Oswaldo Minda, Ben Zemanski; Ryan Smith (Scott Gordon, 84), Nick LaBrocca (Casey Townsend, 93+), Miller Bolaños (Cesar Romero, 66); Alejandro Moreno. Unused subs: Paolo Cardozo, Laurent Courtois, Tim Melia, John Alexander Valencia.
Yellow cards: Smith 6, Bolaños 51, Minda 64, Lambe 66, Koevermans 91+.
Referee: Mark Geiger. Att.: 18,476.
Records: Toronto FC 0-5-0, 0 points; Chivas USA 3-3-0, 9 points.