There’s nothing quite like a homecoming. For professional soccer players, they can be both exciting and bizarre, and for Chivas USA central defender Rauwshan McKenzie, his experience against Real Salt Lake last Saturday was a bit of both.
After spending the last two seasons with RSL, McKenzie made his triumphant return Rio Tinto Stadium in helping anchor the Rojiblancos defense to a shock 1-0 victory.
While he was happy to walk away with the three points, McKenzie confessed that it was a bit strange to face his former teammates.
“I still talk to these guys and went out to dinner with a couple of them when we got in town,” McKenzie told reporters after Saturday’s victory. “It’s definitely weird since it was only less than six months ago that I was playing for this team.”
Against his old club, McKenzie was a two-way threat, nearly putting Chivas up in the 16th minute with a shot from close range that forced a quick reaction save from Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
But it was on the defensive side of the ball where McKenzie earned his paycheck. Using his positioning, speed and physical presence, the 6-foot-1 defender was able to help stifle the high-powered RSL attack, earning an MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week nod for his efforts.
His finest moments came late as he dominated in the air, repeatedly clearing out threatening crosses as Salt Lake pumped balls into the box in search of an equalizer. After preserving the shutout, McKenzie admitted that his experience training with the likes of Fabián Espíndola, Álvaro Saborío and Javier Morales was an asset in the contest.
“I think a lot of the guys still have some of the same tendencies,” said McKenzie. “Obviously it’s still going to be a tough game but I kind of have a leg up in knowing what some of the guys like to do.”
Performances like the one against Real Salt Lake are why McKenzie has seemingly locked down the starting spot alongside Heath Pearce in the center of the Chivas USA defense. And while the backline may still be in its formative stages, McKenzie couldn’t help but admit that his new back four is showing signs of following in the footsteps of his old defensive line.
“We’ve got a great group of guys on the backline – a lot of experience besides myself,” said McKenzie. “We’re just starting to gel – two 1-0 losses but with the bounce of the ball we could probably be up 1-0. And to come here in a tough place against a great team and walk out of here with three points, it feels good.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org