CARSON, Calif. — Chivas USA were presented with an opportunity to earn their stripes on Saturday against D.C. United, but instead they fell flat.
The 3-0 loss is the largest margin of defeat that Chivas have suffered during the 2011 season. Prior to Saturday's result, the Goats had not lost by more than a goal, and after Charlie Davies' hat trick, the feisty Rojiblancos were left searching for answers.
With their playoff hopes now hanging by a thread, Chivas must find a way to respond as they approach their penultimate road game of the season against the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
Here are three thoughts from this past weekend's defeat:
At a loss for words
Because of Heath Pearce's injury, the Rojiblancos were forced to shuffle their back line, and as a result it looked disjointed without their leader at center back. Mistakes — be they giveaways or poor clearances — plagued the defense, leading to three goals and several more chances at Dan Kennedy's net.
The issues weren’t limited to the defense, though, as Juan Pablo Ángel and Justin Braun struggled to challenge Bill Hamid and the DC back line. Despite their struggles, the Rojiblancos dominated the stat sheet with superior possession (63 percent to 37 percent), though that was mostly achieved after the match was already in hand.
"Honestly, I don't know where to start,” Ángel said. “We were outplayed, outrun and lacked all of the things that we need to do today, we didn't do it. The first thing that we needed to realize was that this was for a chance to be in the playoffs, and it was a team that we needed to beat — especially at home. "
Júnior Lopes gets defensive
Chivas' defensive struggles were further compounded in the 67th minute when the back line grew even more stretched. Center back David Júnior Lopes and DC attacker Chris Pontius leapt for a loose ball, resulting in a collision that left the Brazilian defender with a red card and Pontius with a fractured right tibia.
After the incident, Júnior Lopes admitted he experienced a knee injury after the collision, but with the Brazilian suspended for Chivas' match against Chicago, he’ll have the necessary time to return to the already depleted Goats back four. Despite the injury to Pontius, Júnior Lopes asserted that he meant no ill intent.
“I invite everyone, including MLS, to review the play then judge because I swear to God, my intent is always to play hard, but never to hurt anyone,” Júnior Lopes said. “After the game the doctors looked at me, [and] since it was a hard hit, there is a lot of tension. They gave me anti-inflammatories and an injection now we just wait to see how [my knee] feels.”
Rebuilding toward Chicago
With arguably their worst performance of the season behind them, the Goats will have to look to this week's match against Chicago to revive their fading playoff hopes. The Rojiblancos now sit in 13th place and are three points behind D.C. United for the final playoff berth.
Beating Chicago will be made more difficult by the fact that Goats back line will be stretched even further because of Júnior Lopes’ suspension. Andrew Boyens seems likely to fill in for the Brazilian, and Zarek Valentin and Ben Zemanski have also played at center back. Though roster changes are a certainty, the most important factor will be just how Chivas bounce back from Saturday's loss.
“One approach is to close the door on it, say it’s a bad game and move on, but I’m too practical for that," head coach Robin Fraser said. "A lot of it is that we have to look at the mistakes that we’ve made and commit to not making the same sorts of mistakes again."
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org