CARSON, Calif. — Justin Braun broke out of his slump in a big way this past Saturday night and was able to propel Chivas USA to new heights.
Braun scored his second hat trick of the season as the Rojiblancos dominated the Houston Dynamo en route to a 3-0 win. While Braun was the effect with his clever runs at goal and expert finishing, head coach Robin Fraser’s five-man midfield was the cause, dominating possession and creating chances for Braun to work his skills.
Chivas USA will hope their win against Houston — which snapped a 12-game, nearly five-year victory drought against the Dynamo — will bring the team confidence ahead of a grueling five-game road trip. The difficult run begins with a trip to Pizza Hut Park against red-hot FC Dallas, but the Rojiblancos appear ready, as they’re currently riding a five-game unbeaten run.
Looking ahead to the road trip that may define Chivas USA’s season, here are the three things learned from the Goats’ 3-0 victory over the Dynamo.
FIVE-MAN MIDFIELD LEADS TO VICTORY
Braun’s hat-trick was the focus during the victory over Houston, but it was Chivas’ play in midfield that led to his outburst.
Against the Dynamo, the Goats returned to a 4-1-4-1 midfield triangle formation for the first time since early in the season. The move was highly successful as midfielders Blair Gavin and Nick LaBrocca were able to dictate the match by managing possession and creating scoring opportunities. With possession held, wide players Mike Lahoud and Jorge Flores to find space behind a Dynamo defense that could not keep up with Chivas’ pressure.
The midfield was supported further by the marauding runs of left back Ante Jazic, who tallied two assists in his first match back from a calf injury. For a side built on controlling possession, the showing against Houston was a sign of the development that has taken place at Chivas USA.
“We're a little bit more mature and a little further ahead than we were at the beginning of the season,” said Fraser. “We felt very strongly that this group of midfielders would be able to take some possession and turn it into dangerous opportunities. Certainly nice when you get it right.”
ROJIBLANCOS IN STRIKING DISTANCE OF PLAYOFF BERTH
With the victory, the Goats were able to boost their position in the overall MLS standings, moving up two spots from 11th to ninth. If the season ended today, Chivas USA would possess one of the league’s final playoff berths.
Although the season is months away from completion and there is still a great amount of work to be done, it is an accomplishment for Chivas USA to be in that position ahead of the most demanding part of their season.
“More than anything right now, it means we're within striking range,” Fraser told reporters after the victory. “Certainly, we want to make sure we're always in striking range as we make improvements or continue to make improvements, we want to make sure that we’re not making improvements while sacrificing potential postseason play.”
TRANSFER MOVES STILL IN THE WORKS
Despite Braun’s fantastic performance against the Dynamo, the Rojiblancos are still looking to further bolster their offense.
In particular, the forward position is the biggest need as Chivas USA requires a clinical striker going into the most demanding part of their schedule. After several statements stating that moves were in place last week, Fraser did not place a timetable on when a signing would be coming.
“Things are in the works,” said Fraser. “We’re looking at players and we certainly want to make progress on that sooner rather than later.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @adamserrano