CARSON, Calif. - The new-and-improved Chivas USA gave way on Wednesday night to the squad that self-destructed its way through the first three months of the season.
The Los Angeles Galaxy took advantage of numerous Red-and-White defensive errors and won by a commanding 5-2 in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium.
Clearly, the team that played Wednesday night was not the same on that finished July with three wins in five games in all competitions, the club's first winning record ever and the first time the goal count (9-7) was in Chivas' favor.
"We just didn't play a good game today. We regressed today from the way we played the last three weeks," Chivas defender Ezra Hendrickson said.
Defensive miscues kept Chivas from building on its early lead. In the 11th minute, Chivas had won possession deep in their own defensive third. A bad pass, however, gave possession right back to the Galaxy. Several passes later, Cobi Jones scored on a slow-rolling 22-yard shot that found its way through at least a dozen players.
The final eight minutes of the first half killed Chivas. With less than a quarter-hour left, Galaxy defender Ugo Ihemelu stripped the ball from a Chivas player some 40 yards out, slotted a pass to Joseph Ngwenya, who found space inside the penalty area and beat Chivas keeper Brad Guzan and leveled the score at 2-2.
But the worst was yet to come. At the stroke of halftime, Chivas defender Armando Begines inexplicably coughed up the ball to Herculez Gomez about 25 yards out. Gomez, who appeared surprised to have the ball at his feet, took a couple of steps and unloaded from distance. Guzan appeared to dive too early and the ball caromed off the right post and into the back of the net.
"It seems like we always find a way to make mistakes and give up some stupid goals and that's what happened today," Chivas striker Arturo Torres said. "It seems like every time we find a way to lose. We were up two times in the first half and (losing the lead) definitely kills your motivation."
Self-imposed errors had been the club's trademark early in the season but after July it appeared the club had turned the corner and was poised to threaten in the Open Cup. In the end, it was Chivas who dug its own grave.
"We made too many mistakes and they took advantage," Chivas midfielder Francisco Mendoza said. "That's how this game is; the team that can take advantage of others' mistakes usually comes out ahead and that's what happened."
Chivas was eliminated from the Open Cup after having started off the tournament with a heart-wrenching 3-2 win against USL Second Division side Charlotte Eagles on July 13. But the difference between a third-tier club like Charlotte and a top-flight side like the Galaxy was evident from the start.
"They're a good team and they're pretty deep," Hendrickson said. "They were able to rest (Chris) Albright and (Landon) Donovan and (Peter) Vagenas in the first half and still were able to put a good 11-man squad out."
Donovan scored in the 89th minute and Albright bagged a goal late in stoppage time to punctuate the victory. That Chivas was within a goal for the entire second half and yet failed to score was disappointing. But giving up a goal so close to halftime all but did Chivas in.
"We gave up a soft goal going into the half and it kind of gave them the momentum," Hendrickson said. "We just couldn't get that third goal back and we opened up and they were able to do some counterattacks and get some one-on-ones with the keeper."
The Galaxy used its home-field status to its advantage. Set up behind each goal were two large, fenced-off areas where Galaxy supporters set up camp, mere yards from Chivas' goal. The supporters yelled anti-Chivas chants throughout much of the game, though Hendrickson said that was not the reason the club played poorly.
"It's gamesmanship," he said. "They were trying to get the edge and they did but it's a home game for them and they were able to put their fans wherever they want to. We can't really complain about that because that didn't cause us to play bad today."
Although the Galaxy had outclassed Chivas on three prior occasions, Wednesday felt like the tide was turning in Chivas' favor.
"They've been in the league for 10 years. We're an expansion team; we're just starting. But it seemed like today the tables were going to turn," Torres said. "We started off well and had the lead twice but unfortunately we weren't able to keep it."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.