CARSON -- Marcos Mondaini says the last four weeks have been among the toughest of his life.
Forced to the sidelines and widely criticized following a clumsy tackle that shattered Real Salt Lake playmaker Javier Morales' ankle, the Chivas USA forward has worked diligently to be ready following a four-game suspension while continually mulling over all that occurred.
“I don't know how to call those weeks ...,” he said through an interpreter after a triumphant return to the Goats lineup Saturday night. “I never before lived what I lived in those weeks, but there are things that happen to you in life. Thankfully, I was able to recover.”
His recovery was complete with a 70th-minute goal, from a superb Paulo Nagamura cross, to give Chivas USA (4-4-5) a 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center. It capped one of the Goats' most energetic and masterful performances of the season in a delightful encounter between two sides in fine form and looking to attack.
Nagamura, in just his second game after recovering from a long-term calf injury, and Michael Lahoud, back at right back after getting over a concussion, were in the starting XI, and second-year midfielder Blair Gavin, arguably the most skilled player on the roster, played for the first time since reinjuring a tender hamstring in March.
That added to a spirit spurred by Wednesday's poor showing in a 1-1 draw with Vancouver that helped produce 19 shots -- a dozen in the first half -- and myriad opportunities, the best before the goal Jorge Flores' blast that tested Portland goalkeeper Troy Perkins in the eighth minute and Justin Braun's off-target header from Flores' cross just before halftime.
“In [the locker room] before the game, you could feel the energy,” Lahoud said. “Nobody had to say anything.”
The Timbers (5-5-2) were good, too, especially midfield general Jack Jewsbury -- he forced two big saves from Chivas netminder Dan Kennedy and played in dangerous set pieces all night -- attacking midfielder Diego Chara and winger Kalif Alhassan.
But it was Mondaini's night.
“Marcos was very good, from his first touch of the game,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “He took on a few guys and got around the corner and was getting into dangerous crossing positions. I thought he was very good.
“In spite of the incident that happened with himself and [Morales], Marcos is a wonderful person, and he feels, I know, the responsibility. Because he feels like he's let the team down. The face that he came back, he came back with this attitude that he really wanted to help the team, and I think he was very good in that respect.”
The Argentine forward said he “had a chance to talk to Javier Morales, and to me it was very important. And being able to talk to him, I'm going to always be very grateful to him.”
Morales, also from Argentina, is expected to be sidelined at least another three months.
A quick look at Chivas' victory:
BEST PLAYER: Candidates galore. There's Mondaini, who continually stretched the Timbers' defense and connected teammates. And Lahoud, who was very sharp in just his second start since mid-April. And Michael Umaña, exceptional in his second straight start in central defense. And Kennedy, who stood up to several tests and made nice saves on Jewsbury, Jeremy Hall and Jorge Perlaza.
Nagamura, who made an abbreviated return in mid-April, retweaking his injury, and played 30 minutes against Portland on Wednesday, was the best player on the field, providing a strong midfield foundation, winning and distributing balls and pushing ahead to create chances, such as the one Mondaini finished.
BEST GOAL: Mondaini put a perfect finish on a classy buildup, with Nagamura doing most of the work. The Brazilian midfielder saw space on the right flank, quickly moved into position to exploit it, and Chris Cortez delivered a simple pass that sent him sprinting toward the right corner. He sent in a superb cross behind defenders David Horst and Hall, and Mondaini raced to the back post to knock the ball just inside the post.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: Finishing, until Mondaini delivered, wasn't what it needed to be.
WORTH NOTING: The shutout was Chivas' first in six games, since the 3-0 romp over New England on April 30. … The Goats climbed to sixth in the Western Conference standings, with 17 points, just two behind Colorado, three in back of Real Salt Lake and four behind Seattle. … Fraser gave starting left back Ante Jazic the night off (he was available as a substitute), moving Zarek Valentin to that side from right back. Valentin was limping after the game and said his right ankle was kicked in a battle for the ball. … Gavin came on in the closing minutes and said it “was just a really happy moment for me to get back out there and be with the guys. Sitting on the bench -- being in that 18[-man game-day roster] -- is a big accomplishment for me, and I'm just excited to keep going and continue to progress and get my skill back and get my touch back where it was.” He wasn't sure if he would play in Sunday's Reserve League game (HDC Track and Field Stadium, 11 a.m.) because the training staff is strictly monitoring his workload. … Portland fell to 0-4-2 on the road.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “It's funny. A 1-0 victory seems like not that big a deal, but the way we went about it, I was extremely proud,” Fraser said. “We put ourselves into dangerous positions quite often, could have scored maybe a goal or two more, but I just felt like our mindset was right, and that's the way you have to be. You have to be aggressive with the ball, aggressive getting to goal. For that, I was pretty proud of the whole effort.”
NEXT: Saturday at Houston, 5:30 p.m. PT (Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22)
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Chivas USA 1, Portland Timbers 0
C -- Marcos Mondaini (Paulo Nagamura, Chris Cortez) 70
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; Michael Lahoud, Michael Umaña, Heath Pearce, Zarek Valentin; Ben Zemanski, Paulo Nagamura (Simon Elliott, 82), Nick LaBrocca, Jorge Flores; Justin Braun (Chris Cortez, 68), Marcos Mondaini (Blair Gavin, 87). Unused subs: Victor Estupiñan, Ante Jazic, Zach Thornton, Mariano Trujillo.
Portland Timbers: Troy Perkins; Jeremy Hall, Mamadou “Futty” Danso, David Horst, Rodney Wallace; Sal Zizzo (James Marcelin, 80), Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Kalif Alhassan (Darlington Nagbe, 71); Kenny Cooper (Eddie Johnson, 75), Jorge Perlaza.
Yellow cards: Valentin 18, LaBrocca 28, Hall 32, Braun 35, Nagamura 66.
Referee: Chris Penso. Att.: 14,076.