CARSON -- The steps Chivas USA has taken this season are apparent in the results the past two months: just one loss in 10 games of every stripe -- and that to Real Salt Lake -- with a march into the U.S. Open Cup's final four.
How much further the Goats still must go is right there, too: They've won just twice against Major League Soccer competition during that span -- and that extends to 10 league games, going back into mid-April.
They've been turning a corner, in the parlance, but where that corner straightens isn't yet clear, it seems. Not everyone agrees.
“I feel like maybe the first month of the season, you could emphasize that,” Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy said on the eve of Saturday night's match with the Vancouver Whitecaps (8-4-5) at Home Depot Center. “I feel like the last two months, we've really turned that corner and become a team that can really grind results out.
“I would like to obviously see those results not just being ties.”
The Goats (5-7-4) have asserted themselves the past two months as their personality -- a gritty possession team -- has matured with the acquistions of, especially, young forwards Juan Agudelo and Jose Erick Correa. There's a growing dynamism within the group, and as they hit the midpoint of their MLS campaign, the next step in the evolution requires that dynamism to start translating into goals.
Chivas has hit the net only 11 times in 16 games, by far the worst rate in MLS. It has been shut out seven times, scored more than once just twice, and that's not entirely about the scoring struggles at season's start: no goals in two of the last three MLS games.
“We certainly feel like every day we're getting closer to the group understanding what is necessary to create more chances,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “We like our group of players. There's this gelling process we certainly feel has to take place and is taking place. The more we see the group, the more we feel like it's coming along.”
Correa and Agudelo have impressed, largely without scoring -- Correa has two goals, Agudelo a goal and an assist, each in five appearances -- and veteran Juan Pablo Angel has been nearing his best the past month. The Goats have solid wing play and versatility up front -- with Alejandro Moreno's hard work and Cesar Romero's impishness off the bench -- but “scoring goals is a difficult thing, and you need a lot of people on the same page to do so,” right back James Riley notes.
Said Kennedy: “We have a group of special, talented attacking players, but chemistry takes time: guys playing together and really understanding [each other's] movements off the ball. That creative interchanging play is really what creates goals.”
Chivas had last weekend off, on top of the three-week break from the end of May through mid-June, which in theory provided time to work on these connections. But Correa was sidelined for a couple of weeks last month with a hamstring strain, and Agudelo has missed training this week with a sore knee that will keep him out of Saturday's game.
The Goats are a team that appears on the verge of something, once they can find a consistent scoring touch, and Kennedy has a message for those who believe they can be real contender in MLS next year or in 2014.
“Remember Real Salt Lake in 2009,” he said. “They were the last team to make the playoffs, and consider four, five, six results went their way that [final] day.”
RSL, of course, won MLS Cup.
“This playoff structure -- for us, you just need to get in,” Kennedy said. “The way we play on the road, we know we just need to get in. My feeling is we're about halfway through the season. It's really going to come down to us being three wins better than we were in the first half.
“In my mind, that's what we need to do. Hopefully, we can start [against Vancouver] by getting one of those.”
WORTH NOTING: Chivas on Friday acquired the rights to one defender (Bobby Burling, from Montreal) and waived another (Scott Gordon). ... Chivas holding midfielder Osvaldo Minda is serving his second yellow card-accumulation suspension of the season, which probably signals a switch back to a 4-2-3-1 alignment. Star Vancouver rookie Darren Mattocks, who has four goals in just 427 minutes, also is serving a yellow-card suspension. ... Agudelo's left knee is sore, and that's the knee that underwent surgery a few months back. He said it was an “over-use” injury. “It was OK after surgery, I've just been playing so many games.” ... Winger Ryan Smith has been cleared after completing the concussion protocol. ... Miller Bolaños is still dealing with a hamstring strain, and he's ill. ... Last year's meetings were ties, and Vancouver won the first encounter this season, a 1-0 triumph on Jay DeMerit's second-half header, on March 17 at HDC. ... The Goats play Seattle in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal Wednesday in Tukwila, Wash., then take next weekend off. They're back home for a Wednesday afternoon games July 18 against Portland, then play the second SuperClasico of the year July 21. It's the Galaxy's home game. ... If Chivas wins the Open Cup semi, it will play in the Aug. 7 or 8 final at Philadelphia or Kansas City. ... Chivas has postponed Tuesday's scheduled MLS Reserve League game against the Galaxy at HDC because of the Open Cup match. ... Several college players have bee in training the past couple of weeks, including Indiana forward Eriq Zavaleta, assistant coach Greg Vanney's nephew and a first-team practice regular before he headed to college. Others: Cal forwards Mike Muñoz (Coto de Caza/Santa Margarita Catholic HS) and Kyle Lunt, defender Christian Deam and defender/midfielder Ted Jones; Stanford defender Hunter Gorskie and forward Adam Jahn; and Indiana midfielder A.J. Corrado.
Head coach: Martin Rennie
Key players: F Sebastien Le Toux, F Eric Hassli, F Darren Mattocks, M Barry Robson, M Davide Chiumiento, F/M Camilo, D Jay DeMerit, G Joe Cannon, D Alain Rochat, D Lee Young-Pyo
Local guys: D Jordan Harvey (Mission Viejo), M John Thorrington (Palos Verdes) and former Galaxy G Cannon
Update: The Whitecaps (8-4-5) finished last in MLS in its debut season but were making changes before the end. Rennie, a terrifically successful coach in America's minor leagues, was brought on board last summer and started as head coach in the offseason, and he's quickly built a winner. The 'Caps are third in the Western Conference with 29 points from 17 games, have lost just once in seven league games -- the 3-0 defeat to the Galaxy three weeks ago at HDC -- and just bolstered their lineup with veteran Scottish midfielder Robson, a Designated Player who made his debut in Wednesday's victory at Colorado. There's tremendous potential: The 'Caps have one of the most talented collection of attackers in the league -- starring Le Toux, Hassli, Chiumiento, Camilo, and, increasingly, rookie speedster Mattocks -- but have scored more than one goal in an MLS match just four times, all at home.
Out: M Marvin Iraheta (right ACL tear).
Doubtful: M Miller Bolaños (left hamstring strain).
Questionable: F Juan Agudelo (left knee soreness), D John Alexander Valencia (right hamstring strain).
Probable: M Ryan Smith (concussion).
Out: F Atiba Harris (right knee surgery), F Omar Salgado (right foot fracture), G Brian Sylvestre (right knee surgery), M John Thorrington (right quad strain).
Doubtful: M Matt Watson (right ankle sprain).
Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
Referee: Juan Guzman.
TV: KDOC/Channel 56 (English) and KWHY/Channel 22 (Spanish)
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)