A calculated risk mixed with the improved health of several players helped Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen put together a new-and-improved lineup on Saturday.
And for the first time, the Red-and-White yielded some positive results. Chivas USA picked up its first win and its first shutout against fellow expansion side Real Salt Lake.
The lineup looked more like the one the team originally had in mind when the club broke camp in February. Two players -- Armando Begines and Francisco Mendoza -- got their first starts while another -- Alfonso Loera -- got his second. Orlando Perez and Douglas Sequeira moved up to defensive midfield, which pushed Ramon Ramirez up into the attacking midfielder's role vacated by Hector Cuadros, who moved up to right forward.
"Some of us are not unfamiliar with our new positions and that really showed out there," Cuadros said.
Having players who can fill more than one role gives the club great flexibility, Rongen said.
"We try to utilize players in their best positions it takes sometimes a while to get there in terms of finding the right chemistry, finding the right combination," he said. "We're still tweaking things here and there. That's just the growing pains of an expansion team."
The club still played in its now-familiar 4-3-3 formation, switching back to it after using a 3-5-2 alignment against New England. Begines, fully recovered from a broken collarbone, lined up at left back opposite Hendrickson. Loera, also fully recovered from groin surgery, played next to Ryan Suarez at central defense.
The two wide strikers, Mendoza on the left and Cuadros on the right, had played in the midfield before Saturday. Both, however, responded well. Cuadros drew the penalty kick when his attempted cross from the right side of the penalty area struck Real defender Marlon Rojas' arm. Cuadros also converted the spot kick for the game's lone goal.
"It was a little bit of a gamble but I felt after five games and only one point we didn't have much to lose to make those changes and the team responded very well," Rongen said.
Cuadros blossomed at right forward. He was dangerous and made well-timed runs off the ball and seemed more comfortable without the responsibility of making plays and creating for others. Ramirez, who had played primarily as a defensive midfielder before Saturday, took over Cuadros' role as lead playmaker.
"Hector played the position where he feels most comfortable," Rongen said. "Let's be real honest. (Francisco) Palencia was supposed to be our (number) 10, you know and when that didn't happen, we had to scramble a little bit and make some adjustments. We felt that Hector would have been the best option at that position for a while."
Cuadros, however, did not develop into the playmaker Rongen had hoped for but was too talented to relegate to the bench. Instead, he played a position he's played with success in the past.
"It's not a position I'm unfamiliar with," Cuadros said. "I felt comfortable with Ramon as the No. 10. It was a formation that gave us a good result."
Ramirez did not do the dirty work required from defensive midfielders Saturday. His influence on the match instead came from his accurate passes, though teammates did have problems finishing. Still, Ramirez shined as the lead playmaker and even pushed up and was an option on crosses from the wings.
"All of a sudden he became more dangerous," Rongen said. "He was able to spring some people through because he gives such good passes. I wanted to be able to get a better passer out of that position which Hector isn't."
Though Chivas USA failed to score in the run of play, the club dominated possession throughout, had 14 shots, six on goal and forced Real 'keeper D.J. Countess to make five saves. The week before, Chivas USA had five shots and just two on goal.
With Ramirez as the "No. 10," Chivas USA should continue to produce quality scoring opportunities.
"That's the idea," Ramirez said. "I had to try to pass that same feeling to all of my teammates and we had to go out there and take the pressure off of our backs from the previous games and have fun because that's the only way we can go forward and take that weight off of us."
Barring injury, Rongen said the same starting lineup will take the field against Colorado. Orlando Perez said that would be the best move.
"If something works, you've got to stick with it," he said. "If we just keep working at it ... we're only going to get better."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.