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Sunday, July 3, 2011
CHIVAS USA: Same old same old, and a tie

By Scott French

Nick LaBrocca
Chivas USA's Nick LaBrocca, left, battles Chicago's Logan Pause during Saturday's 1-1 tie. LaBrocca's goal early in the second half salvaged the result for Chivas.

CARSON, Calif. -- Chivas USA experimented during its preparations for Saturday night's Major League Soccer encounter with the Chicago Fire, trying out different alignments and tactical systems in search of something that would show the club at its best.

They decided to stick with the status quo.

And so the Goats offered plenty of the familiar: a little up-and-down play, especially early; some decent possession, especially late; some questionable decision-making, which resulted in a Fire goal; and not nearly enough precision when chances arrived.

It led to a 1-1 draw at Home Depot Center, another frustrating but reasonable result sending Chivas, which has won just once in its last eight games, to 4-7-6 and vaulting them past Portland and into seventh place in the Western Conference.

Nick LaBrocca scored at the start of the second half for the Goats, who had surrendered six leads in their previous six games but this time rallied from a first-half deficit forged with speedy Dominic Oduro's finish on a counterattack in the 26th minute.

Chivas' possession game hasn't created enough scoring chances and the Goats haven't been precise enough when chances do arrive, and so they looked to add some new wrinkles to their game during closed training sessions Wednesday and Thursday.

“To be honest,” head coach Robin Fraser said, “a lot of what we experimented with we decided not to go with because I think the team is pretty comfortable in terms of how we play and what we do. Our decision ultimately was that we're comfortable doing what we do and we've been doing it for five months now. To go ahead and try to change it in a week probably isn't the wisest thing.”

It took the Goats 30 minutes to find a rhythm, and the game belonged to them from that point, although their advantage in possession -- they held the ball for nearly 65 percent of the game -- failed to lead to as many opportunities as desired. That's been a theme all season.

“I think it was better but not good enough,” said backline leader Heath Pearce. “I think we showed some good things again, but again it's too little too late. We didn't start well today, and the times we've done well is when we've started well and dictated from the start. I don't think we did that today. We played catch-up, caught up, and then didn't do enough to win.”

A quick look at Chivas' draw:

BEST PLAYER: This was two games in one, each with a different star. Oduro, with, especially, Patrick Nyarko's support on the left flank, caused Chivas all sorts of problems through the first 30 minutes and then again just before halftime, forcing Goats goalkeeper Dan Kennedy into three big saves -- and Michael  Umaņa a clearance on Nyarko's follow after the last of those stops.

Oduro's pace decimated the Goats on the 26th-minute goal, with a Nyarko through ball sending him up the left channel with Umaņa in frenzied pursuit. The shot came from an abrupt angle, getting past Kennedy, who had the near post well covered, and rolling just inside the far post.

Once Chivas gained the upper hand in possession, Oduro ceased to be trouble, and LaBrocca emerged as the most influential player on the park. His hard work at both ends energized the Rojiblancos, he was at the heart of their best chances, and he scored a terrific equalizer after firing off the crossbar in the first half.

BEST GOAL: LaBrocca's was a sizzler, with a great set up, superb shot and fortuitous carom to pull the Goats even just 57 seconds into the second half. Michael Lahoud set it up, slipping in a nice pass, and LaBrocca took a touch in traffic, looked up and arced a perfect ball over Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net.

The arc is what made it count. Johnson was a few steps off his line, but not much, and he surely would have handled a line drive to the same spot. But LaBrocca bent the ball perfectly, putting it out of the goalkeeper's reach but dropping it before it cleared the crossbar. Very nice.

BIGGEST STRUGGLE: Chivas continues its search for consistency -- “Not just from game to game, but within games,” Fraser put it -- but hasn't yet tracked it down. That was apparent at the beginning, when the Goats fumbled the ball under pressure and seemed to connect only when playing the ball backward. They gave it up too easily, and the Fire took advantage of their attacking speed, and especially Oduro's, through counters and through balls.

“Once we got sharper on the ball, then we weren't giving it away in bad spots to give them a quick counter or slip a through ball,” Kennedy said. “That solved a majority of our problems.”

Now if they could find some precision in front of the net. Maybe it will arrive with the July 15 opening of the transfer window?

“I think we never stop looking,” Fraser said. “And also we never stop working at it either. It is the kind of thing that's going to be a continual work in progress.”

WORTH NOTING: The draw was Chicago's 12th this season, just two off the MLS mark set last season by FC Dallas. The Fire (2-4-12) have tied four in a row, seven of their last eight and 11 of their last 13 league games. Their unbeaten streak is at eight games. ... Former Chivas center back Yamith Cuesta departed with cramps in the 63rd minute. ... Among those not making the Goats' 18-man roster for the game: center back Andy Boyens and forward/midfielder Tristan Bowen. ... A lottery will be held Tuesday to assign forward Soony Saad to an MLS club. Saad, 18, helped the University of Michigan reach the NCAA final four last year as a freshman, then departed to look for a club in Europe. When the right decision didn't materialize, he signed with MLS, the league announced Saturday.

FINAL JUDGMENT: “When we play well, we do definitive things very well,” Fraser said. “But we're still in that up-and-down stage where some weeks it's good and some weeks it's bad. Some minutes it's good, some minutes it's bad. ... We need to realize that when we play well, we are a good team and we can be dangerous.”

NEXT: Wednesday vs. San Jose at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (Fox Sports West)

Home Depot Center (Carson)
Chivas USA 1, Chicago Fire 1

Chi -- Dominic Oduro (Patrick Nyarko) 26
CUSA -- Nick LaBrocca (Michael Lahoud) 46

Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; Michael Lahoud (Mariano Trujillo, 91+), Michael Umaņa, Heath Pearce, Zarek Valentin; Paulo Nagamura (Ben Zemanski, 77), Nick LaBrocca, Simon Elliott, Jorge Flores; Justin Braun, Marcos Mondaini (Victor Estupiņan, 64). Unused subs: Chris Cortez, Francisco Mendoza, Blair Gavin, Zach Thornton.

Chicago Fire: Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Yamith Cuesta (Josip Mikulic, 63), Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares; Marco Pappa (Cristian Nazarit, 64), Logan Pause, Baggio Husidic, Patrick Nyarko; Dominic Oduro, Diego Chaves (Orr Barouch, 74).

Yellow cards: Pappa 55, Lahoud 67.

Referee: Andrew Chapin. Att.: 15,152.