In just three InterLiga games, Chivas have established a pattern: fall behind early and wait until the end of the match to mount a comeback. Early on, that was a recipe for excitement but on Tuesday at The Home Depot Center, that formula only resulted in a wakeup call.
Omar Bravo scored a goal in the third minute of stoppage time to give Chivas a 1-1 draw with Necaxa. Chivas advanced to Sunday's finals and are one victory away from reaching Copa Libertadores for the second consecutive year.
But Tuesday's latest comeback might be more than the club can stand.
"We've started these games slowly but have battled back and we've shown character in coming back," Chivas defender Carlos Salcido said. "(Tuesday) we came too close to being eliminated. We need to better this soon."
For the most part, Chivas dominated Necaxa; on shots alone, Chivas held a 23-2 advantage. Necaxa also was left with 10 men following Rodolfo Espinoza's ejection late in the first half. Nevertheless, the goal did not come easily.
Entering the second half, Chivas knew they had their work cut out for them.
"I told the team at halftime that a team who has one more player does not need just possession. That alone does not matter," Chivas coach Hans Westerhof said. "The only advantage we can have is if we pressure the other team and open them up. It was not easy and it took us 45 minutes but we finally opened them up."
On the decisive play, Manuel Sol took the ball near the right touchline. Sol fired a long cross into the area, where Diego Martinez flicked it on toward the back post. Bravo slid between a Necaxa defender and tapped the ball past a stunned and out-of-position goalkeeper. Necaxa's Ivan Vazquez had made numerous remarkable saves until that point.
Twice, however, Chivas came close to scoring. Salcido and Bravo each hit the crossbar five minutes apart early in the second half. Also, Adolfo Bautista had a point-blank shot stopped by Vazquez.
Even though Chivas had a decisive advantage in shots, Westerhof said that statistic alone does not show much.
"Yeah, they were 23 shots but they were not unobstructed shots," he said. "There are never 100 percent clear scoring chances."
The comeback was indicative of Westerhof's first stint with Chivas. The Dutchman led Chivas to the Clausura 2004 final and along the way had several memorable comebacks.
"Under Hans, we always had games like this," Salcido said. "Then, we were a team that always battled back and never quit. That's how we're starting this year off too."
Chivas was boosted by a boisterous crowd of 26,253, most of whom were Chivas supporters. When Bravo found the back of the net, The Home Depot Center stands erupted in a sea of bliss.
"We're used to that," said Westerhof, who last year called the stadium home as coach of Major League Soccer's Chivas USA. "Almost anywhere we play, we feel like we're at home."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to InterLiga.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the league or its clubs.