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Saturday, September 17, 2011
CHIVAS USA: Goats drop fourth in a row

By Scott French

Chivas USA's fading playoff hopes aren't officially dead yet, but give it just a little more time.

The Goats' disastrous stretch of late season hit a new low point Saturday, when they battled back from another horrid start only to lose at the finish, a 3-2 decision at Chicago that extended their season-worst losing (four games) and winless (six) streaks.



“It’s time to look at ourselves and be honest about what we need to do to be better ...,” head coach Robin Fraser said. “We as a group just have to accept that these things aren’t good enough, these mistakes aren’t good enough, and they’ve been too consistent. If we do want to get into the playoffs -- if we have any hope of getting into the playoffs -- we really, really need to be sharper, more focused all over the field for 90 minutes.

The Fire (5-8-15) went ahead through Cory Gibbs' header in the second minute, made it 2-0 on a Juan Pablo Angel own goal in the 25th, then pulled out the victory when Dominic Oduro finished Patrick Nyarko's feed in the 85th.

Gibbs got above Michael Umaņa to nod home the first, and the second arrived when Pavel Pardo's free kick glanced off Zarek Valentin, hit Angel between his shoulder and his head and flew past goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.

Oduro's winner, which Chivas initally argued was offside -- Valentin kept Oduro onside -- followed a penetrating pass from Diego Chaves, who fended off Alejandro Moreno and Umaņa to find Nyarko.

Chivas (7-12-10), which held a man advantage after Gibbs was red-carded for a rough challenge on Michael Lahoud in the 37th minute, rallied on second-half goals two minutes apart by Angel -- his second since arriving last month from the Galaxy -- and Nick LaBrocca.

The Goats, employing an attacking lineup, controlled the game's tempo but not the game, a recurring theme this season. They completed more than twice as many passes as did the Fire (553-266) and possessed the ball for 67.6 percent of the game. If only those figures counted more than the score.

“I felt that as soon as we came back and managed to tie the game, I felt that there was no chance to get the goal and to put the game away,” Angel said. “I was very optimistic that at some point we are going to find a break, because we were having the better possession, we were having the better chances, we had a man up -- and then, eventually, we stopped doing the things that allowed us to find the spaces like we did [at the beginning] of the second half.

“It would have allowed us to be a better team in the second half. When we stopped doing that, Chicago found a second wind and capitalized on our mistakes. ... Going on the road and managing to tie the game up and being in control and not being able to just get more out of the game is extremely disappointing.”

The defeat leaves the Goats five points out of a playoff spot with just five games remaining on their schedule, including must-wins Wednesday at D.C. United and next Saturday at Home Depot Center against Toronto FC.

A quick look at Chivas' defeat:

BEST PLAYER: Oduro was a handful from start to finish, using his blazing speed to repeatedly stretch the Goats' backline and to beat Ante Jazic on a well-timed run to finish Nyarko's feed for three points. He could have scored more -- but that's typical Oduro, who might be MLS's best scorer with a little more consistency.

Good work for Chivas from LaBrocca, Kennedy and midfielder Laurent Courtois, whose entrance in the 65th minute sparked the Goats' best attacking soccer.

BEST GOAL: Angel's was well-taken, and so was the sequence that fed Oduro's winner, but we really liked LaBrocca's little chip to tie the score in the 63rd minute.

It was an opportunistic strike, after a corner kick eluded Oduro, bounced off Valentin, then was knocked by Oduro off Valentin. The ball bounced toward the middle out of the 6, and LaBrocca stepped up more quickly than Pardo, casually clipping the ball on the volley and curling it gently into the upper-left corner.

BIGGEST STRUGGLE: The Goats got off to another slow start, surrendering the first goal in the first 88 seconds and another in the 25th minute -- both because of poor marking on set pieces.

There is a backline crisis without Heath Pearce, who hopes to return next weekend from a torn hamstring, and with Brazilian newcomer David Junior Lopes suspended following last week's red card, but the problems tracking opponents' runs have been exposed all season, just with more consistency of the last weeks.

Gibbs got to Sebastian Grazzini's corner kick although Umaņa had the inside track on the ball. The Costa Rican center back didn't leap for the ball, and Gibbs skied high above to nod the cross back inside the near post.

That's five goals Chivas has allowed in the first 15 minutes of the past five games, and four of them led to defeat.

WORTH NOTING: Rather than go conservative with his defensive depth thinned by injury and suspension, Fraser employed an attacking lineup, using Justin Braun and Marcos Mondaini on the flank in support of Angel and Moreno up front. ... Valentin and Michael Lahoud returned to the starting lineup, with Valentin teaming in the middle with Umaņa and Lahoud at left back. The oft-injured Lahoud departed after he was knocked down three times in the first half. ... Chivas plays its final game away from HDC on Wednesday at D.C. It's final four are in Carson, including a “road” game Oct. 16 against the Galaxy. ... Chicago and Toronto FC are within a point of Chivas, which is 13th overall. San Jose is two points behind the Goats. ... The Goats' ceiling (46 points) is better only than Vancouver's, Toronto's and New England's. ... The Goats were 7-12-4 a year ago, en route to an 8-18-4 final mark.

FINAL JUDGMENT: “I thought we had moments today that were quite good, but we had moments that were horrible as well,” Fraser said. “Good teams don’t have horrible moments. Good teams have great moments, good moments, maybe fair moments. But good teams don’t have horrible moments.”

NEXT: Wednesday, Sept. 21, at D.C. United, 4:30 p.m. PT (Prime Ticket) Toyota Park (Bridgeview, Ill.)
Chicago Fire 3, Chivas USA 2

C -- Cory Gibbs (Sebastian Grazzini) 2
C -- og Juan Pablo Angel 25
CUSA -- Juan Pablo Angel (Mariano Trujillo) 61
CUSA -- Nick LaBrocca (Zarek Valentin) 63
C -- Dominic Oduro (Patrick Nyarko, Diego Chaves) 85

Chicago Fire: Sean Johnson; Josip Mikulic (Daniel Paladini, 80), Jalil Anibaba, Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares; Marco Pappa (Diego Chaves, 80), Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko; Sebastian Grazzini (Yamith Cuesta, 46), Dominic Oduro.

Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; Michael Lahoud (Mariano Trujillo, 46), Michael Umaņa, Zarek Valentin, Ante Jazic; Justin Braun (Laurent Courtois, 65), Simon Elliott (Blair Gavin, 46), Nick La Brocca, Marcos Mondaini; Alejandro Moreno, Juan Pablo Angel. Unused subs: Andrew Boyens, Jorge Flores, Ben Zemanski, Zach Thornton.

Yellow cards: Lahoud 5, Mikulic 73. Red card: Gibbs 37.

Referee: Jorge Gonzalez. Att.: 15,246.