Chivas USA expected to be tested when they faced Real Salt Lake this past weekend, but could do little to prepare for what actually took place.
A pair of red cards marred the first half, forcing Chivas USA to play with nine men for nearly 60 minutes. The young club nearly left Rio Tinto Stadium with a point before a late Will Johnson goal gave RSL a 1-0 victory and ended the Rojiblancos’ five-game unbeaten streak. With Andrew Boyens suspended for one match and Marcos Mondaini likely suspended for more after his careless tackle that may have ended Javier Morales’ season, the Goats will need to tinker with a lineup that had not changed in three weeks.
Here are the three things that we learned about Chivas USA after their 1-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake.
Watch: Full Match Highlights
This team is growing up, but, mental lapses are still present.
Throughout the first half of the season, Chivas' coaching staff has preached “growth” as the team continues to develop into a cohesive unit. On Saturday, they learned how far their team had come. Down to nine men, the Goats were able to come up with timely clearances and defensive stops that kept RSL off the board until the 87th minute.
“It’s funny how you can come away from a game like that and know you could have tied,” Chivas USA defender Zarek Valentin wrote in an e-mail to MLSsoccer.com. “Throw in the fact we had nine guys and it’s a testament to how far that we’ve come. We’ve learned that later in the year, we won’t give up those late goals no matter the opponent."
While the defense was heroic after the red cards, it was severe lapses in judgment that put Chivas in that position in the first place. A series of poor tackles by Boyens on Álvaro Saborío led to his expulsion. Mondaini then committed his tackle from behind on Morales — a challenge that rightly got him sent off and will likely cost him several more matches. These lapses in judgment will need to become a thing of the past if Chivas USA are to become genuine contenders.
Depth and versatility still key for Chivas USA.
With Boyens and Mondaini out, Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser was forced to shuffle his lineup by inserting Justin Braun into the attack while pushing midfielder Ben Zemanski back to center back — a position he has played several times this season. With Boyens out and captain Jimmy Conrad still sidelined with a concussion, the team will need to once again rely on depth to remain competitive.
“One thing about our team is we have good depth,” said Valentin.” [Losing Boyens and Mondaini] will be tough, but I know the guys will work extra hard to make sure we’re as strong as ever for a very hard, but winnable game.”
If the Rojiblancos are to find success in May — and for the rest of the season, for that matter — goalkeeper Dan Kennedy must be on his game.
The Chivas USA 'keeper came up with a number of key saves late that kept the match leveled as long as it did. With the defense reeling after Boyens was sent off, Kennedy’s vocal leadership helped organize the Chivas defense that was under constant onslaught by RSL.
Since taking the starting job early last month, Kennedy was vital to the team’s recent unbeaten streak, coming up with several big time saves. The Goats’ netminder will be tested again this weekend when Chivas USA face Thierry Henry, Luke Rogers and the rest of the high-powered New York Red Bulls attack.
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @adamserrano