Chivas USA failed at the finish Saturday, and no shame in that. They had held mighty Real Salt Lake scoreless on the road into the 87th minute despite playing most of the game with only nine men.
Red cards, both deserved, defined Robin Fraser's Salt Lake City homecoming, with Chivas' impressive defensive display shuttled on Will Johnson's finish with five minutes to go, stoppage included.
The Goats (2-3-2) looked good before losing center back Andy Boyens to a second yellow card after just 25 minutes and Marcos Mondaini to a straight red in the 38th for a gruesome foul that cost Major League Soccer its third major star in little more than two weeks.
Real Salt Lake playmaker Javier Morales suffered what the club's doctor called a “fracture dislocation of his left ankle and accompanying ligament tears,” will require surgery and be out an expected four months. He follows to the sidelines Seattle's Steve Zakuani, out for the year because of a broken leg, and FC Dallas' David Ferreira, done for three months because of a fractured ankle.
This one wasn't nearly as ugly as Colorado midfielder Brian Mullan's attack on Zakuani, which drew a 10-game ban, but it was as difficult to watch -- and, like Zakuani's injury, was televised on a national network. (Spanish-language TeleFutura, which regaled/sickened viewers with repeated replays.)
Morales, MLS's premier attacking midfielder, was dribbling right to left above the Chivas USA box with his Argentine countryman Mondaini in pursuit but getting nowhere near position to knock the ball away. Finally, Mondaini swept Morales from behind, folding the RSL star's left leg underneath as they fell forward. Morales' foot bent sideways as he wailed in torment.
Referee Paul Ward initially gave Mondaini a yellow card -- ridiculous; the challenge was from behind, and that's a red card -- switching colors only after seeing the extent of Morales' injury. The expulsion is accompanied by a one-game suspension, but MLS's disciplinary committee can, and likely will, add a few games to the total. The league wants to appear strong on these kinds of tackles, and it has set a standard with Mullan's penalty.
Not even RSL thinks the fouls compare.
“To be honest, I didn’t think it was the most flagrant of fouls,” coach Jason Kreis told media afterward. “It was from behind, which we’re trying to get out of the game. It’s in the attacking third, and Javi was clearly getting ready to shoot. I understand the urgency of the situation from the defender trying to make the play, and I really don’t think it was that egregious.”
Fraser, a former RSL assistant coach, called Mondaini's challenge “clumsy” but not “malicious,” and Mondaini expressed remorse.
“It was a very unfortunate play, and, unfortunately, I was involved in it,” he said. “It wasn’t my intention [to injure Morales]. I’m aware we are colleagues. This is a sport, and we have families, and I would never have the intention to injure a colleague. I never go out with bad intentions, I just go out there and play hard. I want to tell Morales that I wish he recovers promptly, and I hope he returns to playing soon.”
A quick look at Chivas' loss:
BEST PLAYER: Johnson was a real instigator for RSL (5-1-0), as he always is, and he kept getting into dangerous positions in the second half. Nice work to get the goal, too. Arturo Alvarez, off the bench, really sparked the Lions' attack. Nat Borchers was solid in the back for RSL, Alvaro Saborio wreaked havoc but couldn't finish, and Morales' importance was underscored by how little RSL really created with numbers superiority.
Chivas USA had to believe it was going to escape with a draw, and a lot of that was about Heath Pearce's superb showing in central defense, Simon Elliott's and Nick LaBrocca's work occupying RSL's midfielders, and Ben Zemanski's spirited performance after moving to the backline following Boyens' ejection.
Best of all, both sides: Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who was so solid in the net, owned his box, cut off dangerous balls and did well to swallow up tricky shots. He certainly takes no blame on the goal.
BEST GOAL: Real Salt Lake used its two-man advantage, of course, to keep heavy pressure on the Goats defense most of the second half, and it was to Chivas' credit that the Lions got through just once.
It came from a hopeful ball by Collen Warner into traffic from the left wing, sailing past his mark, Zarek Valentin, and Zemanski's raised leg near the near post, off Borchers and inside Pearce and Chivas left back Ante Jazic en route to the right post. Johnson was there to volley the bouncing ball over a leaping, scrambling Kennedy.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: The red cards killed the Goats, who had looked pretty good -- with more possession than the masters -- before Boyens was sent off. Mondaini's red card was stupid; it was a needlessly rash challenge from behind that will surely draw a multigame suspension.
Boyens' ejection is ultimately more troubling. He saw red for a second yellow card, and Chivas' complaints about the call -- yellow was harsh under normal circumstances -- missed the point.
Boyens, a tall, thin, sometimes awkward New Zealander, is the weak link on Chivas' backline, favored over Michael Umaña during Jimmy Conrad's interminable wait for concussion symptoms to die. He has been overmatched on several occasions while starting six of the last seven games in central defense, and was disastrous almost from the start Saturday.
Boyens should have been red-carded in the 15th minute for a “last-man” foul after grabbing Saborio by the upper arm to spin his away from a certain chance, but referee Ward let the Chivas back get away with yellow. Perhaps Boyens should have seen yellow three minutes earlier, when he buried his forearm into the shorter Saborio while leaping to win an aerial challenge. And how did he escape yellow when he elbowed Saborio in the back of the head on another play in the air in the 24th minute.
Boyens finally was sent to the locker room after lowering his shoulder to stop a Saborio run. A foul? Sure. A card? Rarely. But Boyens was no longer welcome on the field.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “We had a pretty good start and were able to put them under some pressure, which is a pretty hard thing to do here,” Fraser said. “After the first red card, the tone of the game changed a bit, and after the second red card, the tone changed greatly. In the second half, we came out and defended as hard as we could. We were down two men against the best team in the league. If we could have walked out of there 0-0, what a tremendous result that would have been for us.”
NEXT: May 15 at New York Red Bulls, 4 p.m. PT (TV: Galavision and Prime Ticket)
Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy, Utah)
Real Salt Lake 1, Chivas USA 0
RSL -- Will Johnson (Nat Borchers) 87
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Robbie Russell (Arturo Alvarez, 54), Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert; Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales (Andy Williams, 45), Will Johnson; Fabian Espindola (Collen Warner, 65), Alvaro Saborio.
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; Zarek Valentin, Andy Boyens, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic; Ben Zemanski, Simon Elliott, Nick LaBrocca, Jorge Flores (Justin Braun, 57); Marcos Mondaini, Alejandro Moreno (Mariano Trujillo, 73). Unused subs: Victor Estupiñan, Gerson Mayen, Francisco Mendoza, Zach Thornton, Michael Umaña.
Yellow cards: Boyens 15, 25. Red cards: Boyens 25, Mondaini 38.
Referee: Paul Ward. Att.: 14,313.