Los Angeles Soccer: Casey Townsend
Chivas USA did what it needed to do and got a little help at the finish, braving the Texas heat and tiring legs in their third game in eight days to claim a point Saturday night.
Dan Kennedy made two big saves, Alejandro hit the post and referee Fotis Bazakos, making just his third Major League Soccer appearance, gave the Goats a gift in stoppage time of a scoreless draw at FC Dallas.
The Goats (5-7-4, 19 points) pulled even with fifth-place Colorado on points, although the Galaxy could vault past both and into the Western Conference playoff zone with a victory in a later game against Vancouver; L.A. led, 3-0, at halftime. Dallas (3-9-4, 13 points) climbed out of cellar, one point ahead of Portland, which plays Sunday.
Nick LaBrocca returned to action for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury a month ago, but Oswaldo Minda took a late yellow card for time-wasting after kicking away a ball following a foul -- his league-worst eighth of the season -- and will be suspended for the next league game, July 17 against Vancouver.
The Hoops, who outshot Chivas, 13-2 -- 9-0 in the second half -- deserved a penalty kick when defender Danny Califf spun around Fabian Castillo just inside the Goats' box four minutes into stoppage, but Bazakos, watching nearby, didn't make the call.
Chivas had plenty of first-half possession but just one legitimate chance at goal, with Kevin Hartman diving to stop a Juan Agudelo drive in the 12th minute and Moreno putting the rebound off the right post.
CARSON -- Neither of Chivas USA's center backs Monday morning was under contract, and one of them hadn't played competitively in months -- focused more on his UCLA degree and keeping up with two young sons.
One winger played on the indoor Anaheim Splash's reserve team last winter, and his replacement's experience is primarily in the minor leagues of Germany and the Netherlands. Neither are under contract.
Add in a couple of Chivas Academy stars -- high-schoolers, really -- and the Goats produced a most experimental lineup for their MLS Reserve League clash with Portland. They came out of it with a point -- rookie Casey Townsend and German trialist Sebastian Stachnik scored goals in an entertaining 2-2 draw in Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium -- and, more important, without having to expend much first-team energy.
Chivas is through one of four games in a grueling 11-day stretch, facing a critical Major League Soccer showdown Wednesday against Montreal, and the last thing it needs is to find minutes for players. There are enough meaningful minutes to spread around.
“For sure, we have a game in two days and another three days after that. And the [U.S.] Open Cup game next week,” head coach Robin Fraser said. “We have a busy schedule and are trying to manage the schedule for everyone involved.”
Only six first-team players saw action, and among them, only wingers Laurent Courtois and Ryan Smith, who came on in the second half, can be considered major contributors.
All three trialists in camp -- Stachnik, center back Bobby Burling and Brazilian winger (and former Spash reserve) Tiago Luzardi -- were given roles, and Academy midfielder Eric Gonzalez (Corona/Santiago HS) and forward Ben Spencer made their Reserve League starts since last year.
Also on hand was MLS veteran Nelson Akwari, who has played for the MetroStars, Columbus, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver (when it was a second-division team) before returning to UCLA last year to complete his education. He doubled up in the L.A. Blues' backline last season, but this year has been about school (he's two years from an engineering degree) and family.
CARSON -- It took Juan Agudelo all of an hour, not even that, to feel more at home with Chivas USA than he had in two-plus seasons with his hometown club.
This, he believes, is going to be great.
The 19-year-old striker, the most exciting young player in America, was the big prize in Chivas USA's pick-ups Thursday, a big (6 feet 1, 183 pounds), strong, skilled striker who has impressed with the U.S. national team while wilting under the New York Red Bulls' disinclination to use him.
Heading west, he figures, is the best thing that could have happened for him.
“I was happy in New York,” the Colombian-born forward, who moved with his family to New Jersey when he was 7, said Friday morning following his first training session with the Goats. “I wish things would have worked out better, but I feel like the best place, honestly, for my development was not a team like New York.
“I'm just happy to be here. I truly believe already from the first day here that my development is going to shoot up and the sky's the limit here. I feel valued here.”
He hopes to start repaying Chivas for setting him free Saturday night in the SuperClasico against the Galaxy at HDC. No word from head coach Robin Fraser that he'll be in the starting XI, but don't bet against it.
Fraser and his staff's initial instruction to Agudelo was simple: enjoy yourself.
“They told me go out there, play with a smile and have fun,” Agudelo said. “That's really all I need to hear to excel myself. I just want to have that free feeling. I feel like I understand how the game is and the things I have to do to help out the team, and it was awesome for them to give me that freedom.”
Just looking around, he felt at home.
“A lot of Hispanics here,” he noted. “It's awesome. To feel welcomed. A lot of Colombians, [the team will] speak Spanish, English. It's great. It's got a little bit of flavor from my hometown [Manizales] in Colombia. ... It's a South American-kind-of-style team, and I think it's great because it's somewhere I feel like I fit in.”
He didn't fit in with the Red Bulls, who have a European owner, European GM, European coach and a bunch of European players -- and little use for a South American player with different qualities that need to be refined.
CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA renew their SuperClasico rivalry Saturday night at Home Depot Center, so what better time to weigh in on the best rivalries in soccer -- in MLS and around the world.
We asked a handful of players and coaches with both teams their thoughts on what matchups are the real Clasicos. Here's what they said.
- BEST WORLD RIVALRY
What's the best?
Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy: “The Real Madrid-Barça match has been pretty special the past few years. You don't want it to get diluted, because they play each other 12 times a year. Now that Manchester City is having their way in the English Premier League, them with Manchester City is pretty special. And I always like watching Tim Howard and Everton play against Liverpool.”
Galaxy midfielder Juninho: “Brazil-Argentina.”
Chivas forward Juan Pablo Angel: “Boca-River.”
Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza: “There's so many out there, man. Barcelona-Real is a pretty good one, I think. I think that one's got to be the top one.”
Chivas defender Ante Jazic: “Barça-Real.”
Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan: “Barcelona-Madrid.”
Chivas defender James Riley: “Ooh, that's a tough one. I think Celtic-Rangers has the best history, and Boca-River Plate. I would go with Celtic-Rangers.”
CARSON -- The guest of honor stayed home after a small setback in his rehabilition from injury, so it was Juan Pablo Angel who took the spotlight, making his first start since opening day in Monday's MLS Reserve League match at Home Depot Center.
Steve Zakuani, the electrifying Seattle winger who has been sidelined a year since a gruesome tackle shattered his right leg, had targeted this one for his return to Major League Soccer action, but he pulled himself out of training Sunday and was left in Washington when the team traveled to L.A.
The Sounders pulled out a 4-3 victory without him, with Riverside's Sammy Ochoa scoring twice, including the winning goal in the 70th minute.
Angel scored on a penalty kick and assisted a Casey Townsend goal with a nifty pass, but Chivas twice gave away leads in an absorbing match, clearly the most entertaining played at HDC yet this year.
“We've been struggling scoring goals, so we put an emphasis on trying to get goals, create chances,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, who grew up in Torrance and has won championships, among other places, with the Galaxy and at UCLA. “I think we did a good job, scoring four goals, and I think we had chances to maybe score eight.”
That approach led to end-to-end action. It was 1-1 by the 12th minute, the Sounders hit the post three times in the first 24 minutes, and at least three goals -- by Chivas' Laurent Courtois in the ninth minute, Townsend's go-ahead tally in the 59th, and a blistering first-time blast above the box by Sounders rookie (out of UCLA) Andy Rose to tie the score three minutes later -- featured first-class finishes.
Chivas USA can point to a lot of good in what hasn't been a particularly sharp start to the Major League Soccer season, in terms of possession and defensive work all over the field.
It has not been nearly enough, but the Goats believe they're about to turn a corner. A couple of goals Saturday night in Portland might be enough.
Chivas (1-3-0, 3 points) is coming off a solid week of training, head coach Robin Fraser said, following an impressive offensive performance in Monday's MLS Reserve League victory over the Galaxy.
“I think we really looked at a lot of our issues and, at the end of the day, talked about being aggressive in the attacking end of the field,” Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles after arriving Friday in Portland, Ore. “We had a good week of training in regard to that. Most important, I think, is the mentality of the team continues to solidify to do the things we need to do to be successful.
“I think our runs were more aggressive [Monday], our ideas were more aggressive, and certainly that needs to translate [into Saturday's game].”
Cesar Romero, who against netted his second hat trick with the reserve team, and Miller Bolaños, the Ecuadoran attacker who so ably partnered Romero, could get a look against the Timbers. They prospered in a 4-4-2 alignment, with diamond midfield -- Chivas' preferred system last year. The Goats have used a 4-2-3-1 most of this season, including all four league matches.
Rookie Casey Townsend has gotten starts the past three games in Juan Pablo Angel's absence, and he has Chivas' lone goal this season, a heads-up finish to beat Real Salt Lake two weeks ago in Sandy, Utah.
The other three matches, all at home, have been 1-0 defeats marked by superb defending, a healthy amount of possession and inadequate penetration. In four games, the Goats have created four true goal chances.
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.
CARSON -- Chivas USA last weekend heroically gutted out a victory over Major League Soccer's early Supporters' Shield leader. Now they'll try to do so again, and it will require the same kind of grit.
That's what the Goats are counting on when they meet Sporting Kansas City (3-0-0) on Sunday evening at Home Depot Center, and that's fine by them.
Real Salt Lake dominated Chivas through huge portions of last week's clash in Sandy, Utah, but superb defensive work -- especially by former RSL backup Rauwshan McKenzie and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy -- and a heads-up finish by rookie Casey Townsend delivered to the Goats (1-2-0) a 1-0 triumph.
Sporting K.C., which vaulted over RSL to the top of the overall standings with a comeback victory last weekend over FC Dallas, can be expected to apply similar pressure, and Chivas is ready for it.
“We've got a fight about us. We've got a determination,” said midfielder Blair Gavin, asked what's different about Robin Fraser's second Chivas team. “We've got guys who get stuck into tackles, who work hard offensively and defensively. This is Robin's second year, so his ideas are coming in now. He's getting more players he likes and [who] understand his system, and at the end of the day, we've got a lot of winners on this team, and we're going to be fighting for every victory.”
That desire to fight is pivotal -- it's built into former U.S. defenders Fraser's and assistant coach Greg Vanney's DNA and that of their teams -- but it won't be enough to contend for a playoff berth in the Western Conference. That will require greater dynamism on attack. With winger Michael Lahoud and striker Juan Pablo Angel dealing with injuries and newcomer Miller Bolaños still looking to contribute, it's still a ways off.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said midfielder Peter Vagenas, noting that this group has just three competitive games together. “This is a work in progress. The soccer is going to get better and the way we want to play, that's going to get better, but you need time. While you're doing that, you need success, especially in the win department, to validate what you're doing.
CARSON -- Blair Gavin hopes he has turned a corner on a longstanding hamstring problem after missing a good deal of preseason and Chivas USA's first three Major League Soccer games this year.
He played the second half in an unannounced friendly Thursday against Thousand Oaks-based fourth-division club FC Hasental, converting a penalty kick in a 5-0 victory at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium.
“I'm getting there,” said Gavin, a third-year midfielder with exceptional skill and ideas who has battled hamstring injuries since his rookie year with the Goats. “It's a process, as usual with most injuries, but it's coming along, getting better. It's going in the right direction.”
Gavin could be available for Sunday's game vs. early Eastern Conference leader Sporting Kansas City at Home Depot Center, but likelier will be in coach Robin Fraser's plans for Monday's MLS Reserve League opener against the Galaxy. He's been out since mid-February and missed eight games before getting a few minutes in the March 18 friendly against UC Riverside. Thursday's game was just his fifth game appearance this year for the Goats.
The constant injuries are trying, but Gavin says he's encouraged by his progress and how strategies developed by the training staff, to deal with physiological issues, has helped him.
“I love soccer, so [rehabbing injuries] is the things you've got to do,” he said. “Unfortunately, I've been injured for a long time, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I do the right things so it it will prevent it from happening, but if it happens, then so be it, and I've got to work at it.”
Fraser said the club has been “very mindful of Blair and his history in his recovery” as it works to “do everything we can to eliminate this happening again.”
Gavin was happy to be in a game situation, but he acknowledged a “lot of stray touches that can be better. Just got to get my sharpness back. That comes with games, comes with practices. When you're off for four or five weeks, your touch isn't exactly where you want it to be.”
Fraser praised Gavin's “good ideas, good decisions when to keep it, when to push the pace a little bit” and noted that “when he's healthy, he puts himself into [lineup] contention right away.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Victor Manuel Chavez, one of the four Mexican youngsters in camp from the Sensifut academy in Torreon, scored twice in the victory, and Gerardo Daniel Torres also saw action.
The rookie's opportunistic half-volley in the 72nd minute and another exceptional performance in the back was enough for Chivas to claim a 1-0 triumph Saturday night over powerful Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah, a stirring upset that might be worth a lot more than three points.
The Goats survived a half-hour under relentless pressure in the first half and a late RSL push at the end to give Robin Fraser his first victory over his former club and Chivas its first win at Rio Tinto Stadium. The way they did so, and how they turned their first-half turmoil into a fine second-half performance, might prod them along the next step in their evolution under the second-year coach.
“I would like to think so,” Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles by phone when he was asked if he thought the victory might be a huge step forward. “In our tenure here, I don't think the results have gone that way for us in this sort of game. When times got tough tonight, our guys dug in and dug deep and defended like nothing else mattered. … These guys just fought, gritted and gutted out a victory.”
It wasn't particularly pretty, even with Chivas matching RSL's possession for long stretches of the second half. The Goats created just two real scoring chances -- Townsend's goal followed Peter Vagenas' half-volley and Rauwshan McKenzie's rebound, both knocked aside by Nick Rimando, from a 16th-minute corner kick -- and had to stave off nearly nonstop forays by RSL, which entered the game No. 1 in Major League Soccer's overall standings.
The Utahns (2-1-0) had nearly a dozen scoring opportunities, and at least half of them were good. Former RSL reserve McKenzie was outstanding -- his 42nd-minute takeaway in the box from Fabian Espindola was clinical -- and fellow center back Heath Pearce and right back James Riley were nearly as good. Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was a difference-maker, diving to stop Espindola in the 22nd and 93rd minutes, dominant when coming off his line to attack crosses, a master of his box. He was, Rimando said, “why we had this result.”
Townsend delivered the knockout punch following the Goats' best sequence of the night. The final three passes were key: Ryan Smith threaded the ball through three defenders to give Nick LaBrocca space to head forward, LaBrocca put Ante Jazic into open territory on the left flank, and Jazic whipped a cross into the middle for the rookie to battle for against Rimando and big center back Chris Schuler.
Schuler was between Rimando, who leaped and had the ball in his hands, and Townsend, who applied the necessary physical pressure in the air. The RSL goalkeeper, a former UCLA star from Montclair, fumbled the ball. Townsend, the No. 5 overall selection in January's MLS SuperDraft, followed the ball with his eyes as it fell to the ground, instinctively kicking at it as it landed. The ball sailed hard and true into the net.
“For a first [professional] goal, it was obviously very cool,” said Townsend, who scored 17 last fall as a senior at the University of Maryland. “As far as watching the ball on the way down, that's the striker instinct in me. I just kind of swung at it instinctively toward the net.”
Vancouver scored from a 68th-minute corner kick and held on for a 1-0 triumph over the Goats, the second-year club's first MLS road victory, to join Real Salt Lake atop the Western Conference with six points from two games.
The match, played on a cold, rainy night, drew an announced 7,723 to Home Depot Center.
Chivas (0-2-0) was better than in last week's 1-0 loss to Houston: better organized, with more possession and a defensive effort that neutralized Whitecaps stars Eric Hassli and Sebastien Le Toux up front. But the Goats managed little offense, just like last week, and came close to scoring just once, when rookie Casey Townsend, starting when Juan Pablo Angel pulled out with a head injury, bent a ball from just beyond the box toward the upper-right corner in the 32nd minute. Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon stretched to tip the ball over the crossbar.
Chivas was denied a late penalty kick after Alain Rochat wrestled Nick LaBrocca to the turf as the midfielder tracked a ball over the top. An Oswaldo Minda header in traffic sailed wide in second-half stoppage.
CARSON -- There's plenty for Chivas USA to improve upon following its Major League Soccer opener Sunday afternoon, but the finish against the Houston Dynamo, who pulled out a 1-0 victory with nearly the last boot of the game, dampened the Goats' spirits only a smidge.
Chivas was organized, spirited and battled evenly, more or less, all afternoon with the club that played in last year's MLS Cup final, and if everything didn't quite click -- especially on attack -- there was more than enough reason for optimism.
“I'll be honest,” said midfielder Peter Vagenas, who made his Chivas debut in central midfield. “Like a lot of people, I wasn't sure what we had. ... We have character, we have heart, we fight. The soccer wasn't ideal, but let's be realistic. This team hasn't played together very much. We're facing a team that's got, I mean, how many games have Brad [Davis] and Brian [Ching] played together at this point? Right?
“At some points it was disjointed, we didn't get the service in to Juan [Pablo Angel up top], and that was frustrating, but at the end of the day we were tough, we were organized, we fought, and I promise you it's only going to get better.”
Chivas looked sharper and stronger than at any point during preseason, created four clear scoring opportunities -- with Angel volleying off a post with one and three headers, two by Angel, off-target -- and benefited from another big game by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who solved whatever problems surfaced until almost the end.
The Goats were seconds from a 0-0 draw and a share of the points, but defender Andre Hainault lifted Houston two minutes into stoppage after Davis' corner kick was cleared. It fell outside the box to Adam Moffat, who possesses a rocket shot, and his blast appeared to deflect to Hainault.
Chivas' backline was racing forward, as it should, so Hainault was left 1-on-1 with Kennedy. The finish was simple.
“It's a tough one,” said right back James Riley, one of seven players making their club debuts for the Rojiblancos. “In practice this week, our whole focus was set pieces, because we know that's what Houston lives and dies on. I thought we defended it well, guys jumped out to the second ball and tried to block it and prevent it, and it was just one of those things that are unlucky.
“That happens. For it to happen in the 90th minute was absolutely gutting. It's a cruel game sometimes. Very cruel game.”
CARSON -- Robin Fraser has bolstered his roster with 12 acquisitions since his first campaign in charge of Chivas USA closed 4½ months ago, adding experience, depth and more than a little talent to a decent base.
Will it translate to success -- and if not now, then when?
That's the biggest question facing the Goats in year two of Fraser's reign, and where they sit come the end of October -- in or out of Major League Soccer's postseason -- will determine whether it has worked.
The playoffs are the goal for Chivas, and anything less will be considered abject failure. Fraser wants more.
“You should try to win it,” he said. “The goal is to win a championship. … I've said so many times: There's no sense in being in a competition if you're not trying to win it. Obviously, at the end of the road, we're all in this trying to win an MLS Cup.”
It's a heady aim for a franchise that has won only one of eight playoff games in its history and never advanced beyond the initial stage, not even when it won the West in 2007. The Goats have missed the postseason the past two years and are still rebuilding since so many important figures departed after 2009.
Fraser took aggressive steps during this offseason and preseason, bolstering a tattered backline with the acquisitions of veteran right back James Riley and Colombian center back John Alexander Valencia, strengthening a deep midfield with, especially, Ecuadoran national-teamers Miller Bolaños and Oswaldo Minda, and improving attacking options up front, with first-round draft pick Casey Townsend, especially, demonstrating the gravitas needed to become a seasoned pro.
The most influential of players from last year -- goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, defenders Heath Pearce and Ante Jazic, midfielders Nick LaBrocca and Alejandro Moreno, star forward Juan Pablo Angel -- have returned, and Fraser and his staff have been able to build on something; camp opened last year less than two weeks after he and top assistant coach Greg Vanney were hired.
On paper, Chivas has a far better side than the one that went 8-14-12 and finished eighth among nine in the Western Conference last year, but it might take a little time before that becomes apparent.
MOST IMPORTANT FIGURE
This is a most blue-collar team, and its leaders -- and chief on-field figures -- are hard-working battlers with a bit of skill. Alejandro Moreno (shifting from forward to a holding-midfield role), midfield leader Nick LaBrocca (capable of playing many places, must be on the field) and center back Heath Pearce (solidified a transient backline last year) are the sheriffs.
ALL EYES ARE ON
Juan Pablo Angel stepped in last August after a tumulutous spell with the Galaxy and quickly demonstrated his quality, scoring seven goals in nine games with the club (six of them in four straight games). He has more support up front, with Casey Townsend and Cesar Romero, but hitting double figures for the sixth straight season is a must. MVP Dan Kennedy was a revelation in the nets, but he hasn't looked as sharp this preseason. The Goats need him at his best.
Michael Lahoud has shown off his versatility, for the good (all around midfield) and not so good (a tough spell at right back last year), but he's got his own position now (on the right flank) and is coming off a superb preseason, in which he was dangerous from the wing or when cutting inside. The fourth-year pro could make a breakthrough in 2012.
There are a lot of new and influential faces around, but the Goats' game looks as if it will rotate around Ecuadoran midfielders Miller Bolaños and Oswaldo Minda. They're nothing alike: Minda is a big, strong, smart, athletic, veteran defensive midfielder; Bolaños, a young, impudent, slashing attacker with skill and ideas.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?
You can understand why Robin Fraser and his staff found Maryland striker Casey Townsend so alluring. The No. 5 overall pick in January's MLS SuperDraft fits perfectly into the character of this club: He's all about grit and work ethic, willing to do whatever it takes -- no matter the risks to his heath -- to put the ball in the net.
Chivas USA's Major League Soccer opener is just a week away, and the club enters its final preparations in turmoil. The Goats were battered in their final preseason match Sunday, a 5-0 disaster against the San Jose Earthquakes in Portland, Ore., and head coach Robin Fraser admitted afterward that the difference between where his team is and where he wants it to be is “pretty far apart.”
Defensive problems were at the core of the defeat on the final day of the Portland Timbers' four-team, round-robin tournament, a tight match until the second half, when the Quakes scored four goals -- three in the final 11 minutes -- to send Chivas home desperate for answers before its league opener next Sunday against Houston at Home Depot Center.
“They should be embarrassed,” Fraser said of his players afterward. “Everyone should be so embarrassed that we come into this week with some resolve that this can't continue.”
It was the second time in the preseason Chivas has conceded five goals -- Club Tijuana won the San Diego friendly, 5-2, a week and a half ago -- and although results in these games mean nothing, the Goats are a side still finding itself and learning how to win together.
Winning these games was vital because it could lead to wins once the scores matter.
“Exactly,” Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles. “Winning confirms belief and losing creates doubt, so while there were good moments in preseason, when we don't get the results we want, then there's doubt. The good thing is the season begins next week, we can get a win and all of a sudden tons of belief again.”
Chivas went 3-7-1 in its preseason matches -- 1-5-1 against MLS opposition -- and accomplished several things. The Goats found two good young forwards (Cesar Romero and first-round draft pick Casey Townsend), developed a starting backline, built several combinations in midfield and installed a 4-2-3-1 formation that Fraser will consider along with a more customary 4-4-2.
But their only wins came against vastly inferior foes (fourth-division amateurs FC Hasental and Loyola Marymount University) or in shorter matches (a 60-minute win over the Montreal Impact, with both teams using primarily reserve players).