CARSON, Calif. - In a span of two short weeks, Chivas USA's biggest weakness has become their greatest strength.
Early in the season, opponents had little problem filling Chivas USA's nets with goal after goal. But suddenly, Chivas USA 'keeper Brad Guzan is looking like one of Major League Soccer's best keepers instead of one of its worst.
Saturday, he earned his first professional clean sheet and helped Chivas USA claim their first victory. Now, the once-beleaguered keeper is shining.
"He's been a real trooper under some very adverse conditions, getting shell-shocked in quite a few games," Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen said. "For him to keep coming back, as a young player, shows his resiliency and shows our belief (in him) as a coaching staff and from his teammates. We never wavered."
Against Real Salt Lake, Guzan stood tall. He made several standout saves that kept Chivas USA in the match, something that had not happened earlier in the season. Early in the second half, he went down to his knees and stopped Jason Kreis' point-blank shot with his chest.
Five minutes later, he stopped Kreis again.
But Guzan's biggest saves came when the club needed it the most. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Real Salt Lake pressured Chivas USA's goal. Dipsy Selolwane found space in front of the goal and headed a cross on goal. Guzan, who had started to dive to his right, did well to block the shot with his feet. The ball caromed out of the area right to Leslie Fitzpatrick, who ripped a 20-yard shot aimed for the upper left corner of the net. Guzan stretched out and made a diving save.
Real Salt Lake never threatened afterward.
"Good goalkeepers, and clearly he showed tonight that he's a good goalkeeper, can sometimes win games single-handedly," Rongen said. "He clearly did that in the second half."
Entering Saturday's match in Colorado, Guzan has an impressive streak. He's allowed just one goal in the last 238 minutes.
"I knew when I decided to leave school that I could do this, that I could play at the next level," Guzan said. "It was just a matter of time and being comfortable and being confident."
Confidence was low early in the year. D.C. United ripped apart Chivas USA on two counterattacks; San Jose hit paydirt three times - all on set pieces; FC Dallas scored three goals, one on a fluke 35-yard shot; and the Galaxy put three past Guzan in just 32 minutes.
But after the Galaxy's third goal - a well-placed free kick by Jovan Kirovski - Guzan came to life. In the second half, Chivas USA went a man down. The flood gates appeared to have opened, especially with the Red-and-White sending numbers forward. Instead, the only player making highlights in the second half was Guzan. With Galaxy players having acres of unobstructed space, Guzan stood firm.
Success carried over into the following week, and despite a one-goal loss, Guzan's confidence grew.
"It started with last week," Guzan said. "I played a decent game and made some good saves and it just continued through practice and then it translated into the game. With every day, I'm just trying to learn and grow and get better."
Martin Zuñiga, the former Chivas goalkeeper, is close to recovering fully from his knee injury. He could play in Chivas USA's reserve game Sunday. But whether or not he can crack the starting lineup remains to be seen.
"You'll probably see the same 11, barring injuries, next week again," Rongen said after Saturday's game. "You've got to reward these performances."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.