Under Hans Westerhof, Chivas USA's changes have mostly been off the field. With an increased training regiment and a change in attitude, the Dutchman's moves have focused on peripheral issues.
But against the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, Westerhof made a lineup change that could have ramifications for the rest of the season. Westerhof replaced goalkeeper Martin Zuñiga with rookie Brad Guzan.
Instantly the move paid off. Guzan picked up where he left off when then-coach Thomas Rongen sent the 20-year-old to the bench. Against the Earthquakes, Guzan made standout save after standout save, seven in all, and helped Chivas USA gain a 1-1 draw with the Earthquakes.
"I felt comfortable just like before I stopped playing," Guzan said. "I was starting to feel comfortable (before then) and (Sunday) was kind of the same thing for me. I just had to play my game and not have to worry about (anything)."
In his four starts, Zuñiga struggled. He gave up five goals in his first and last starts and surrendered 13 total goals in his four starts. Over that stretch of games, Chivas USA recorded just a draw; in Guzan's last four starts, the club has won one and drawn one, including Sunday.
However, a change in goalkeepers is not necessarily indicative of one's play over another's, Westerhof said.
"I told them that I needed to see more of all the players. I saw Martin Zuñiga in three or four games then I wanted to see Brad," Westerhof said. "I also sat Hector Cuadros and [Francisco] Gomez, not because they played bad, but to use all my options and that's why I tried some changes in the starting lineup today. ... Now this is the moment to see Brad in a couple of games."
San Jose strikers Alejandro Moreno and Ronald Cerritos were stoned by Guzan for most of the match. Early on, Guzan made several well-timed runs off his line to thwart San Jose attacks and was in position to make saves from long-range shots. San Jose's goal came when Dwayne D Rosario split a pair of Chivas USA defenders and sent Moreno in alone on Guzan.
Late in the match, Guzan appeared confident and secure on the line as he came up with two key saves; one on a De Rosario missile and another on a cannon blast from Julian Nash.
"That was a great game by Brad," Chivas USA's Ezra Hendrickson said. "He works hard. He's a young guy and hopefully good things will continue to happen for him. Brad and Martin, we have confidence in both of them."
Still, despite Zuñiga's high goals-against number and Guzan's on-the-job development, the rookie did not say he deserves to be the No. 1 'keeper.
"That's up to the coaches," Guzan said. "Martin's a great 'keeper, a great leader, a great teacher for myself and other goalkeepers. Whatever the coaches decide I don't think they can go wrong with having either one of us in goal. We'll leave that up to them and we'll roll with the punches."
All Guzan can do is put in an honest day's work, he said. As far as competing for the starting spot, it's a "healthy competition," he said.
"I just go out every day, work hard in practice and try to learn, develop and get better and come game day, if I'm called upon, I just want to do my best to help the team," Guzan said. "I don't think there's any specific thing that I need to be doing to make sure he's not in there. We don't look at it like that. We look at it as a team and whatever's best for the team, we're going to be fine with it. We're great friends off the field and great friends on the field."
As the season continues to advance, the memories of April and 11 goals allowed in the first four games of the season are quickly fading, he said.
"For a 20-year-old I think it's easier to just put it aside," Guzan said. "For the first couple of games I wasn't playing well at all. What are you going to do? You can't go in the past and change things. You've just got to look to the future and look forward and that's what I did."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.