Jonathan Bornstein's first goal of the season sent Chivas USA on their way to a 3-1 win against an undermanned Toronto FC side on Saturday at BMO Field.
The defender was the recipient of a 58th-minute pass from captain Ante Razov that threaded its way between two crossed-up Toronto defenders and found Bornstein coming down the left side. He put the ball past TFC goalkeeper Brian Edwards to break a 1-1 deadlock and give Chivas a critical win in the playoff race. The Red-and-White entered the day in the eighth and final playoff position, tied with Colorado with 27 points but ahead on goal differential.
The Reds were missing nine regulars to international duty, thus leaving a skeleton crew on hand to fill out the lineup. The starting XI included three defenders signed just this week by TFC: 39-year-old Rick Titus of the Canadian Soccer League's Italia Shooters (who was once with the Colorado Rapids), Diaz Kambere of the USL's Vancouver Whitecaps and MLS veteran Tim Regan, who was actually retired as an active player after being released by New York after last season and was working for Toronto as a scout.
TFC's struggles were a welcome respite for Chivas, who were playing their ninth match in 36 days. The busy schedule included a two-leg tie against Panamanian side Tauro FC in the CONCACAF Champions League that concluded last Tuesday and saw Chivas eliminated from the tournament 3-1 on aggregate. In addition to their Champions League defeat, Chivas were also just 1-3-2 in their last six league matches, with their only win coming against Toronto last weekend.
Having the more complete lineup has been a rarity for Chivas in the team's injury-plagued season, but the Red-and-White were still missing a few key names. Team scoring leader Sacha Kljestan and defender Shavar Thomas were called up to the U.S. and Jamaican national teams, respectively, and striker Atiba Harris was serving a one-game suspension for accumulation of bookings. Eric Ebert, who played 90 minutes against Tauro on Tuesday, replaced Thomas on the back line while midfielders Dan Paladini and Jorge Flores filled out the rest of the starting XI.
A week after outshooting the first-choice TFC side 20-5 in a 2-1 win at The Home Depot Center, the Red-and-White again came out strong on attack. Chivas controlled the ball for much of the opening 10 minutes, but to the credit of the new Toronto defenders, they prevented the visitors from getting any close chances against Edwards. Razov and Francisco Mendoza each had a shot in the early going, but neither chance threatened the net.
The game plan for TFC was simple: concentrate on defense first and not take any big risks on the attack. The Reds' strike force, comprised of Chad Barrett and Danny Dichio, was potent if fragile -- the two have combined for 12 goals this season, but Barrett has been bothered by leg cramps and Dichio had played just 12 minutes since suffering a concussion on July 1.
Toronto's strategy paid off for much of the first half, though Chivas showed their quick-strike capability in the 27th minute when a pair of sharp passes suddenly gave forward Alecko Eskandarian the ball as he raced into the Toronto goal area. The former Reds striker got a shot against Edwards, but the 'keeper held his ground for the save.
The hard work put in by the TFC underdogs paid off in the 30th minute. Barrett sent a cross from the left side in the direction of Dichio, who was shoved down. The ball ended up on the foot of Rohan Ricketts, who sent a brilliant pass into the left side of the goal area to Tyler Rosenlund. The Canadian made no mistake in putting the ball into the wide-open net. It was the first career MLS goal for the rookie Rosenlund, who was making just his second start of the season.
Now with a one-goal lead and momentum on their side, the Reds kept up the pressure and nearly struck again a few minutes later. Kevin Harmse carried the ball into the Chivas end and seemingly had his run broken up by two defenders. The ball was deflected right, however, to Barrett, who sent a shot that required a leaping save from Chivas 'keeper Zach Thornton. Barrett had another close call in the 37th minute when the striker sent a near-miss into the left side of the net following a Marco Velez free kick.
Just when it looked as if the Red-and-White were on their heels, however, they struck back with the equalizer before the end of the half. Razov crossed to Paladini in front of the Toronto net, who then stopped short to let his defender rush a few steps beyond the ball, leaving Paladini free for a strike that sailed past a diving Edwards and into the back of the net. It was the first MLS goal for the former Cal State Northridge standout, who has seen regular playing time since midfielder Jesse Marsch suffered a broken jaw on August 14.
In first-half stoppage time, Velez and Eskandarian had a midair collision that left Eskandarian down on the turf. Referee Kevin Stott ruled that neither man was making an attempt at the ball, and both were given straight red cards. Velez's ejection was another blow to the already-thin TFC lineup and left Toronto without its only experienced defender.
The two 10-man sides began the second half figuring out how to account for their respective losses at forward and center back. Toronto nearly exploded with the go-ahead goal in the 50th minute following a Ricketts cross to Rosenlund that required a sliding save from Thornton to prevent the TFC rookie from the brace.
A few minutes after Rosenlund missed his chance at a brace, Paladini came close to his second goal as well. Razov found space on the left side and sent a curving shot that Edwards needed to punch away with a diving stop. The rebound went to Paladini streaking in all alone on the right side, but the midfielder's attempt sailed over the net.
It took just a minute later for Chivas to eventually knock in the go-ahead goal. Razov's pass found Bornstein inside the penalty area, and Bornstein sent a well-placed strike past a flat-footed Edwards. It was the eighth goal of Bornstein's three-year MLS career, but his first since July 29, 2007.
With only three position players available on the bench, TFC coach John Carver made one of the few moves available to him when he inserted another Toronto newcomer, forward Derek Gaudet, into the match in place of Kambere in the 62nd minute. The 19-year-old Gaudet, a native of Bayridge, Nova Scotia, was making his first-ever appearance in MLS after stints with the Canadian under-17 and under-20 teams.
Chivas had to make an unwanted substitution in the 74th minute. Dichio collided with Thornton while chasing after a long pass into the penalty area. The incident led to a booking for Dichio and left Thornton on the turf with a lower-leg injury. The 'keeper had to be taken off the field on a stretcher while reserve goalkeeper Dan Kennedy entered the match in his stead.
Substitutions aside, the Reds were still trying to press for the tying goal. They were awarded a direct free kick following a hand-ball foul just outside of the Chivas penalty area, but Ricketts' attempt sailed high and wide past the net. Barrett and Rosenlund also had shots on goal in the closing minutes, but both attempts were easily handled by Kennedy.
In added time, TFC threatened one final time with a corner kick, and the ball made its way into the scrum and off the head of Tim Regan. There would be no Cinderella ending for the scout-turned-player, however, as the header went left of the net.
With Toronto pushing forward in numbers, it left plenty of room in their backfield for Razov to collect a long pass in added time and score the clinching goal in the 94th minute. It capped off a full day for Razov, who collected assists on the previous two Chivas goals and created problems for the TFC defenders all game long.
Toronto will have most of their regulars back when they play host to the first-place Columbus Crew at BMO Field next Saturday. Chivas continues their three-game road swing on Thursday at Gillette Stadium against Eastern Conference power New England Revolution.
Mark Polishuk is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.