Rongen has no regrets with 'keeper
Ahead of last weekend's match against FC Dallas, Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen made yet another adjustment to his starting lineup, perhaps the biggest one he'd made all season.
Veteran Martin Zuñiga replaced rookie Brad Guzan in goal. The result: FC Dallas beat Zuñiga early, late and in between en route to a 5-2 victory.
Rongen did not second guess the decision.
"I didn't blame Brad the first seven or eight games, I'm not blaming Martin for this one," he said.
Guzan had been the unquestionable No. 1 keeper since Zuñiga injured his knee March 2. Early on, Guzan struggled. He gave up 11 goals in his first four games.
But against the highest-scoring team in the league, Guzan had a breakthrough performance. Chivas USA lost to New England 1-0 on April 30 but his confidence carried over into the following week. He picked up his first clean sheet and helped the club earn its first victory in a 1-0 win against Real Salt Lake on May 7.
Since then, however, after picking up his first clean sheet and helping the club earn its first victory, Guzan and the club fell back to their losing ways. Colorado beat Chivas USA 2-1 on May 14 while Real Salt Lake took a 2-0 decision May 18.
Rongen said he felt the time was right for a move.
"Martin is as healthy as he can be right now," Rongen said. "We felt like we did with Romo ... players deserve chances when you go through tough times."
Guzan, who had undergone steady growth since his baptism by fire, took the move in stride.
"Whatever is best for the team," Guzan said after Sunday's loss. "I think the coaching staff is going to play the best starting 11 that they think can go out each week and get the win, whether it's me, Martin or anyone else."
Still, watching from the bench as FC Dallas scored four goals in the second half was distressing.
"It's difficult to help the team from the bench," he said. "You just have to stay positive and give as much support as possible."
Rongen said he felt Guzan sitting was good for the rookie's psyche.
"I thought it was good for a young player to sit down and more so mentally take a rest than physically," Rongen said.
Still, sitting on the bench after having started every match for more than two months was difficult.
"For the last seven-eight weeks, I've been going out there every game playing and gelling with the guys and everything," Guzan said. "It's difficult (not to play.) You're helpless. You can't do much when you're on the bench except be there and support them and keep everyone confident."
What Guzan saw was the club give up the most goals it had this season, more than even a struggling early-season Guzan had yielded.
Carlos Ruiz opened the second-half scoring binge in the 48th minute when he kept Douglas Sequeira at bay and rifled in a shot from 20 yards out. Ronnie O'Brien scored three minutes later after shaking off Francisco Gomez and firing a 22-yard blast past Zuñiga, who was standing outside the six-yard box.
Eddie Johnson took his turn at beating Zuñiga when he converted from just inside the penalty area on an FC Dallas counterattack in the 69th minute and Roberto Mina capped the scoring in stoppage time.
Afterward, defender Ryan Suarez refused to blame the veteran Mexican 'keeper.
"We left him high and dry on three out of the five goals," he said.
Suarez also defended Rongen's decision to start Zuñiga.
"There are no wrong choices here," he said. "We're all of equal parity here. We have confidence in Martin just like he has the confidence in us just like the coaching staff has confidence in the whole locker room."
Despite the result, Rongen said he would not be quick to sit the veteran 'keeper. Barring injury, Zuñiga is likely to play against the Galaxy on Saturday.
"Just like with Brad ... in all honesty, players deserve more than one game," Rongen said. "It would be easy to use him (Zuñiga) as a scapegoat but that's not the case."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.