SAN DIEGO – Robin Fraser has been looking for a test of his players’ mettle this preseason. He got it on Wednesday night, and his side were found wanting as Chivas USA fell 5-2 to Club Tijuana at Torero Stadium.
Against the Xolos, the Rojiblancos dealt with a laundry list of challenges. It was a physical match featuring 34 fouls, seven yellow cards and one red against an opponent in midseason form. Fraser’s side also went a man down early in the second half while facing a crowd clad almost completely in the black-and-red of Tijuana.
“There's no such thing as a friendly game, it just doesn’t go that way,” Fraser told reporters after the match. “It is part of it, though, and it is part of the experience, and it's part of getting ready for the competition of MLS, so it's good that we got a game like this.
“[The game] had a very physical nature and it was a wakeup call, certainly from the mentality of preseason games. It definitely didn’t feel like a preseason game and for us. It's good to be in that sort of environment.”
The score line may not have been flattering, but the Rojiblancos were the most dangerous side in the first half, creating several opportunities due to the solid midfield play of Nick LaBrocca and Oswaldo Minda.
They took the lead in the 36th minute when Ryan Smith forced a turnover and then went on a darting run down the right side before firing a cross to Mike Lahoud, who finished from close range.
The match went south shortly after, however, when a reckless challenge on Ante Jazic left the defender on the ground for several minutes as play continued. Tijuana’s instance on continuing play left the Rojiblancos incensed, leading to a Smith yellow card and a confrontation between club officials and referees at the end of the half.
Circumstances grew worse in the 50th minute, when Miller Bolaños picked up his second yellow card for an elbow on Bruno Piceno. Seven minutes later, Xolos leveled when a Raúl Enríquez header beat Dan Kennedy. Up a man and the score level, the Xolos quickly took control of the match.
“It was unfortunate to go down to 10 men so early in the half ... but we’ll learn from it,” James Riley told MLSsoccer.com. “We’ll analyze the first 50 minutes at the good and at the bad when it was 11-vs.-11. At the same time, there will be a time during the course of the season where we go down a man and we just have to stay compact and be able to ride that out and weather that storm.”
Tijuana went ahead by questionable means in the 64th minute when Kennedy bobbled a Mauro Gerk header that appeared to stay out of the net. Linesman Eduardo Mariscal ruled otherwise and awarded a goal to make it 2-1.
From there, the floodgates opened. There was no question about Tijuana’s third goal in 79th minute as Leandro Fernández unleashed a blazing shot from 30 yards that sailed into the back of the net. Moments later, an Alejandro Moreno foul in the box resulted in a Xolos penalty kick goal by forward Noe Maya.
Casey Townsend gave Chivas a consolation strike in the 89th, scoring his second goal in two preseason appearances. But the Xolos would not be outdone as Tijuana capitalized on a turnover when Fernández scored the final tally of a frenetic evening.
With his club still in the development stage, Fraser believes that this test will only benefit the Rojiblancos when the season begins.
“You still have to remember this is a very new group, and they're still getting to know each other and getting to understand each other and each other's tendencies,” said Fraser. “And this is part of the learning process. You have to go through some tough times. It's very rare; it's all peaches and cream from the beginning. You have to go through some tough times and you grow as a group when you go through times like these.”
CHV - Michael Lahoud (Ryan Smith) 36
TIJ - Raul Enriquez (Miguel Almazan) 57
TIJ - Mauro Gerk (Leandro Fernandez) 64
TIJ - Leandro Fernandez (Bruno Piceno) 79
TIJ - Noe Maya PK 81
CHV - Casey Townsend (Nick LaBrocca) 88
TIJ - Leandro Fernandez 90+
TIJ - Bruno Piceno (caution; reckless tackle) 17
CHV - Oswaldo Minda (caution; reckless tackle) 22
CHV - Nick LaBrocca (caution; reckless tackle) 28
CHV - Miler Bolaños (caution; reckless tackle) 35
CHV - Ryan Smith (caution; dissent) 43
CHV - Ante Jazic (caution; block) 45+
CHV - Miler Bolaños (red; reckless tackle) 50
TIJ - Alejandro Molina (caution; reckless tackle) 87
Chivas USA -- Dan Kennedy, James Riley, John Valencia, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic, Oswaldo Minda, Nick LaBrocca, Michael Lahoud (Casey Townsend, 69), Miler Bolaños, Ryan Smith (Alejandro Moreno, 69), Juan Pablo Angel (Cesar Romero, 69).
Substitutes Not Used: David Jr. Lopez, Rauwshan McKenzie, Patrick Mclain, Ben Zemanski.
Xolos de Tijuana - Adrian Zermeño (Sergio Vega, 83), Alejandro Molina, Jose Alfredo Tahuilan (Miguel Garduño, 70), Carlos Rubio, Noe Maya, Antonio Madueña (Miguel Almazán, 46), Bruno Piceno, Mauro Gerk (Adolfo Dominguez, 69), Raul Enriquez, Ismael Iniguez (Leandro Fernandez, 54), Armando Pulido (Alejandro Lopez, 72).
Substitutes Not Used: Esteban Rodriguez.
Referee: Alejandro Mariscal
Referee's Assistants: Eduardo Mariscal, Apolinar Mariscal
4th Official: Adam Brugman
Time of Game: 1:49
Weather: Partly cloudy and 64 degrees
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.