Improved outlook in Year 2 for Chivas
Suddenly, Chivas USA's 2006 season seems eerily similar to its inaugural 2005 one.
The club's lone victory has come at home against Real Salt Lake, one of only two teams Chivas USA managed to beat at The Home Depot Center last year. In its sole road game of the year so far, Chivas USA was shutout, falling at D.C. United 2-0.
On Saturday, Chivas USA failed to beat the Los Angeles Galaxy; last year, the Galaxy went 5-0 against the Red-and-White. Perhaps more stunning was the manner in which the 2-1 loss happened. Leading 1-0 on a 46th-minute goal from Ante Razov, the end was nearly in sight yet the Galaxy scored goals in the 83rd minute and four minutes into stoppage time to steal the victory.
Unlike last year's team, however, this year's squad has a multitude of players who possess a wealth of experience, players who can guide the team through tough times. And as troubling as the club's loss to the Galaxy was, it did not stir reminders of last year's dreadful campaign.
"The farthest thing from our minds is the whole snowball effect," Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. "It's our third game of the year. Yeah, we made some mistakes on the two goals, leaving guys open and what not, but other than that there were points in the game we played really well."
Guzan had a front-row seat in last year's expansion horror show. Too often, the young keeper was hung out to dry by a team incapable of stopping opponents. Also commonplace were losses with the same gut-wrenching effect as Saturday's had. On Sept. 17, for instance, Chivas USA surrendered goals in the 82nd minute and another in added time to lose 2-1 to San Jose. A month earlier, Chivas USA squandered second-half leads at the MetroStars and FC Dallas and tied 3-3 and 2-2 respectively.
This season, however, Guzan remains steadfast in the confidence the club's overhauled roster exudes.
"We have a great group of leaders ... proven winners," Guzan said. "It's such a great mix of veterans and rookies that I think we definitely know that it's our third game in, there's no need to panic. We have 29 more games left. Things are going to be all right."
After two days off, one of the first things Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley talked about with his team was the 1999 UEFA Champions League final in which Manchester United scored twice in stoppage time to win 2-1.
"We're a different team. We are making progress. That doesn't mean it's always going to happen all at once. The game can be cruel sometimes. I still remind the players that that's true on all levels," Bradley said. "I mentioned Bayern Munich-Manchester United to them today because that is one of the most obvious examples."
Saturday's match against the Galaxy was a learning experience. The club nearly took a giant step forward but instead might have taken a step back to 2005. Progress was made, coaches said, but it was more than tainted by the outcome.
The team, however, learned many valuable lessons such as "learning how to handle situations when you have the first goal -- maybe being a little sharper in nailing down the second goal to finish the game. If the second goal doesn't come, then there's also an ability to just shut the door and take a 1-0 win and feel good about it," Bradley said. "Those are things that come from experience. Sometimes they come from learning the hard way."
Losing in the manner they did could have been easy for Chivas players to focus on the negative and not look at the positive steps forward the club took.
"We looked hard at some of the things that we did wrong at the end of the game yet we made sure everybody understands that it is that kind of hard work that will eventually turn those games into wins," Bradley said. "There were a lot of good signs. I really thought the response coming out of the second half was excellent. We picked up the level of play. We did a good job of pushing to get the second goal. We'll learn from those mistakes."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.