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CARSON -- There's an all-too-familiar quality to all of Chivas USA's matches this year, and that's not a good thing. Tremendous defensive work and decent possession, but few goalscoring chances, one breakdown and that's that.
It happened again Sunday night, when the Goats wasted another solid effort in their third 1-0 loss of the campaign, all at home. Sporting Kansas City took advantage of a letdown right after halftime, then fended off an increasingly direct Chivas attack to improve to 4-0-0, the only perfect record four weeks into the Major League Soccer campaign.
“It's frustrating. I'm frustrated. I know a lot of guys are frustrated,” defender Heath Pearce said after Chivas dropped to 1-3-0 to remain at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, behind the Galaxy only on goal difference. “We tried to find some positives in this game, and we've been saying for a while now that we have bright moments and stuff, but at the end of the day, bright moments aren't enough if we're not scoring goals and keeping clean sheets.
“I just feel like we make it really difficult on ourselves every single game.”
The Goats have zero margin for error. They've scored just once in four games -- rookie Casey Townsend's finish in last weekend's 1-0 stunner at Real Salt Lake -- so one breakdown or one superb play by the opposition is enough to destroy a firm foundation built on wonderful defending up and down the field.
That breakdown/superb play, a little of both, arrived in the 47th minute. Chivas failed to deal appropriately with a turnover at midfield, providing space for a long Graham Zusi run, almost to the top of the box. He unloaded from there, with the ball caroming off goalkeeper Dan Kennedy's outstretched hands and off the crossbar and high into the air. Zusi outleapt Ante Jazic for the header, sending the ball toward the left post, and C.J. Sapong tucked it home.
Chivas, which dominated the first half-hour but struggled to turn almost constant possession into penetration, went to a direct game from that point, lobbing balls over the top. There were chances, but just one that mattered: Nick LaBrocca hitting the left post following a Laurent Courtois run in the 54th minute.
“Our retention of possession needs to be a lot better,” said winger Ryan Smith, who with Laurent Courtois fueled Chivas' attack in the first half. “In the second half, we just kept giving it away. In the first half, we wasn't so bad, we got some chances, but I don't know what happened in the second half. We came out, they got the early goal, we didn't retain possession. That's key. If you don't have possession, you can't get into good areas. You can't just hit it and hope to get on the end of a long ball. Sometimes, you have to keep the ball, move the opposition around, then make a decisive pass or switch a play, but it just didn't happen in the second half.”
The Goats put only one shot on frame -- LaBrocca's off the post -- against a team that had surrendered just one shot on goal in two of its first three matches. They had another decent chance just before halftime, when James Riley chipped to Smith at the top of the box, but his touches, the first to pull away from Aurelien Collin and the next to avoid goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, took the Englishman beyond the end line.
“There were moments in the game that we could have been more aggressive and more decisive and turned some of those moments into more opportunities …,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “Half-chances get turned into real chances and get turned into goals through conviction, and I think at times we get into decent moments and maybe we don't have the conviction to follow through. There are moments where we can be more aggressive in the attacking end.”
Juan Pablo Angel's absence for the third straight game with a concussion isn't helping. Townsend was active up front, but he made a bigger impact defensively than he did with the ball; Angel scored seven goals in nine games for Chivas last year.
“I think that you have to look at [Angel's absence] as significant,” Fraser said. “You have to believe he's the type of player who finds goalscoring opportunities, for sure.”
No complaints with Chivas' defensive game, the breakdown on the goal aside. Rauwshan McKenzie is emerging as a first-rate center back -- he dominated his duels with Sapong, last year's MLS Rookie of the Year -- and Oswaldo Minda was a monster in midfield, making plays on both sides of the ball.
“If you look at us over the first four games of the season, we've played well defensively,” Kennedy said. “I think we're a damn good defensive team, but if we're going to defend for long periods in the game, then something's going to break down eventually. We're being literally punished by it right now.”
Sporting's plan to start the second half, to put pressure on Chivas' defense, paid off handsomely.
“We talked about a couple of things [at halftime],” said Sporting coach Peter Vermes, the former U.S. national-teamer. “One is when we win the ball, we have to go fast. We can't let them get numbers behind the ball. We have to go fast at them. That was number one. Number two is that as soon as the whistle blew for [the second-half kickoff], we had to be ready to go at a very high tempo, and our tempo was there. … I think that was the difference in the second half. We had a different hunger in us.”
Chivas couldn't match that hunger, and they were in trouble after conceding.
That's four straight home losses, dating to last season, the longest such streak since 2005, the inaugural season, when they dropped their last five at HDC in a 4-22-6 campaign.
Pearce was asked what Chivas must do to protect home field.
“I don't know,” he replied. “I just know that teams that win their home games go to playoffs. It's pretty simple. There's no magic sauce, no magic juice that you have to drink or eat to do it. It's an attitude.”
Said Kennedy: “Plenty ahead of us, right? We've proved we can still get results in this league. What was said before the game was how great they were, and I don't think they looked like a much greater team than us tonight. Granted they got the result, and that's all that matters, but, you know, at the end of the day there's still plenty of points to be won for us. We've got to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net and take pressure off ourselves.”
WORTH NOTING: Zusi's assist was the MLS-leading fifth of the season. Sapong's goal was his third. … Sporting is home next weekend against the Galaxy (1-2-0). Chivas visits Portland (1-2-1). … K.C. outshot Chivas, 19-6, with 16 shots in the second half. For the season, Sporting has outshot foes, 81-32. … Alejandro Moreno made his season debut for the Goats, wearing a mask to protect his nose, which was broken (and surgically repaired) twice last month. … Chivas opens its MLS Reserve League slate Monday at 11 a.m. against the Galaxy at HDC's University Field 1, L.A.'s training field southwest of the main stadium.
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Chivas USA 0, Sporting Kansas City 1
KC -- C.J. Sapong (Graham Zusi) 47
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; James Riley, Rauwshan McKenzie, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic (Cesar Romero, 80); Nick LaBrocca, Oswaldo Minda; Ryan Smith, Alejandro Moreno (Miller Bolaņos, 72), Laurent Courtois; Casey Townsend. Unused subs: Scott Gordon, Tim Melia, Peter Vagenas, John Alexander Valencia, Ben Zemanski.
Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Julio Cesar, Roger Espinoza; Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi (Paulo Nagamura, 89), Bobby Convey (Jacob Peterson, 72); C.J. Sapong (Teal Bunbury, 72). Unused subs: Michael Harrington, Jon Kempin, Lawrence Olum, Luke Sassano.
Yellow cards: Sinovic 34, McKenzie 84.
Referee: Edvin Jurisevic. Att.: 13,372.