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Sunday, October 2, 2011
CHIVAS USA: Not dead yet, but so close

By Scott French

Alejandro Moreno
Chivas USA has needed more efforts like the one Alejandro Moreno gave Sunday as it tries to remain in the playoff hunt.

CARSON -- Every game is must-win for Chivas USA, and even that probably isn't enough to get the club in Major League Soccer's postseason tournament.

And when the Goats offer not nearly the kind of intensity required to beat decent opponents, well, what's the point?

That was the tale of Sunday's 1-1 draw at Home Depot Center with the Philadelphia Union, a result that didn't quite crush their playoff prospects but trimmed their slim chances to nearly nothing.

Juan Pablo Angel's 90th-minute header delivered the draw, which was better than a loss in that Chivas (8-12-12) needs, let's say, 15 results to go its way rather than, say, 20. Those aren't exact numbers, but they might as well be.

“Obviously, any lifeline is better than none at all ...” coach Robin Fraser said. “Our chances are extremely slim. In sports, you certainly like to be able to control your own destiny, and that was many games ago for us, and now not only do we have to sit and wait, but we have business we have to take care of ourselves.”

Chivas hopes it is still alive when it meets the Galaxy in two weeks, but if L.A. loses Tuesday at New York, it's over.

The Goats have 36 points and can get to 42 with victories in their last two games. Nine teams already are beyond that -- including Philly (10-7-14) -- and they'd have to vault past four teams, all with more games remaining than Chivas has, to snatch the last berth.

“Mathematically, we still have a chance, I guess,” said goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. “As results like this happen, you just depend more and more on everyone else. And that's the problem.

“This has been our problem all year, not taking care of our games at home, and tonight was another case of the same thing, I guess.”

Chivas is 5-6-5 in home games, winning just 20 of a possible 48 points. Pick up another half-dozen, and the Goats would be in the thick of the playoff chase rather than waiting for the ax.

Fraser was asked afterward about luck and how much a little more here or there would have meant to his team.

“I think to get in [the playoffs] and compete for a championship, there are certain things you have to do for yourself,” he said. “I think that we've seen positive steps throughout the season, but we've also seen negative things throughout the season, and, really, to get where you need to go, you need to have more of those positive moments and less of those negative moments. ... For a team that's competing -- or trying to compete -- for a championship, there has to be more urgency, certainly at the most critical times.

“I do think with a little bit of luck, maybe we're having a different conversation now at 32 games in, but I think a lot of that luck is created by what you do as a team. Certainly, no excuses. We have not executed as well as we needed to throughout the year. ... You can't be that inconsistent and compete for a championship.”

A quick look at Chivas' draw:

BEST PLAYER: Alejandro Moreno, who's all about work ethic, provided the kind of energy and effort that Chivas needed all over the park. Nominally a forward, he spent most of the game in midfield, tracking down balls and trying to connect attackers and create a coherent offense.

Everything Chivas did well the first hour went through him, and when the Goats finally found their footing after falling behind, it was his work, primarily, that opened paths to opportunity.

He might have scored an equalizer just moments after Justin Mapp gave Philly a second-half lead, but his shot from Marcos Mondaini's feed struck the left post. Had that gone in, it might have been a very different final half-hour.

BEST GOAL: Both had their charms, and both were product of shoddy defending.

Mapp's, in the 59th minute, followed a turnover at midfield that sent him on a run into space in front of the Goats' box. Nobody bothered to step up to challenge the left-footer, whose low blast from about 23 yards skipped once on its path just inside the right post.

The sequence leading to Angel's equalizer was nice, with Blair Gavin spreading the ball to the right flank, wide of the box, for Michael Lahoud, whose first-time cross to the far post was perfect. Angel, scoring his seventh goal in seven games for Chivas (and his 10th of the season), was left unmarked -- just criminal defending -- and he nodded it toward the upper-left corner. Philly goalkeeper Zac MacMath made contact but couldn't keep it out.

BIGGEST STRUGGLE: The Goats lacked the effort required to claim three points, at least until Mapp fired the Union ahead, and as Fraser noted to begin his postgame news conference, that's not good enough in “a game with that kind of importance.”

Very little happened at either end until Philly went ahead, which finally sparked the Goats, who spent the final half-hour -- and especially the last 10 minutes -- applying pressure to the Union's solid defense.

“We didn't put our best foot forward, and we didn't put a good enough foot forward until it was very late,” Fraser said. “As we've seen many times throughout the year, if we wait until we're down a goal and we play with a ton of urgency then, sometimes we don't get it done.”

Left back Ante Jazic called the late effort “too little too late” and decried how the Goats came out “lethargic ... slow” after talking “about coming out aggressive, getting at them, being on the front foot, getting them on the back foot.”

Said Kennedy: “I can't believe I'm saying this 32 games into the season, but we have to be able to get going before we get scored on. It's that simple. It's really that simple.”

WORTH NOTING: After the Galaxy game, Chivas finishes its season Oct. 22 against Seattle at HDC. ... New York and Portland have 40 points (and three games remaining), and a win by either eliminates Chivas. D.C. United (38), Chicago (37) and San Jose (32) also remain in contention. ... Fraser, asked if it was possible Angel could return to the club next year, said “anything is possible” but that the first step would be Angel's desire to return. Money also will be an issue: The Galaxy is paying most of his $1 million base salary but won't be doing so next year. ... Simon Elliott was back in the starting lineup after missing the previous two games, but he lasted just a half, with Gavin -- also on the bench the past two matches -- taking over the holding spot in midfield in the second half. ... Midfielder Ben Zemanski was serving a suspension for yellow-card accumulation. ...

Defender Heath Pearce said he expected to return to training this week and be ready for the game against L.A. ... Each side managed just two shots on goal. ... Philadelphia has 44 points, one behind Eastern Conference leader Sporting Kansas City and even with Columbus. Houston is fourth with 43. ... The announced crowd, more than 16,000, was well beyond the actual attendance. We're guessing around 6,500 or so, including a number of youth groups that got in for free or on discounted tickets.

FINAL JUDGMENT: “We haven't been able to be consistent enough,” Moreno said. “We haven't been able to show enough quality, and we haven't been able to be the team that we need to be to get enough points in order to get to the playoffs. ... Our mentality has to be better, our consistency has to be better, and in order for us to continue to build, we have to be able to get results with some consistency. And we haven't done that for the course of the year.

“It's an issue that isn't fixed overnight, but our attitude's got to be there and, hopefully, for the last couple games we'll show up with the right energy, with the right mindset, and we'll get the results we need, and we'll see what happens.”

NEXT: Sunday, Oct. 16, vs. the Galaxy at Home Depot Center, 6 p.m. (ESPN and ESPN Deportes) Home Depot Center (Carson)
Chivas USA 1, Philadelphia Union 1
P -- Justin Mapp 59
C -- Juan Pablo Angel (Michael Lahoud, Blair Gavin) 90

Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; Michael Umaņa, Andy Boyens (Michael Lahoud, 74), David Junior Lopes, Ante Jazic; Justin Braun, Simon Elliott (Blair Gavin, 46), Nick LaBrocca, Laurent Courtois (Marcos Mondaini, 46); Alejandro Moreno, Juan Pablo Angel. Unused subs: Victor Estupiņan, Jorge Flores, Zach Thornton, Zarek Valentin.

Philadelphia Union: Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan; Michael Farfan, Brian Carroll, Amobi Okugo (Roger Torres, 46), Justin Mapp (Kyle Nakazawa, 74); Sebastien Le Toux, Veljko Paunovic (Freddy Adu, 46).

Yellow cards: Lopes 21, G. Farfan 28, MacMath 77.

Referee: Michael Kennedy. Att.: 16,134.