Round One of the expansion battle between Club Deportivo Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake ended in a split decision as the two teams fought to a 2-2 draw at The Home Depot Center on Wednesday afternoon.
Chivas USA drew first blood as Arturo Torres scored on a breakaway in the 22nd minute. Real Salt Lake leveled the score in the 51st minute as Jamie Watson beat Brad Guzan from 10 yards out. Real Salt Lake took the lead in the 80th minute when Leighton O'Brien converted a penalty kick but Chivas USA's Hector Cuadros hit the equalizer seconds before the final whistle blew.
Each side fielded many of the players expected to start for their respective clubs this season. In the second half, both clubs made bulk substitutions.
For Chivas USA, it was the first time in three attempts against MLS clubs and players that the club did not lose.
"I personally don't think they should have been in the game," Torres said. "I thought we were playing better than them in the first half. The second half we let down a little but it's because we've been working hard, double days every day ... But 2-2, we'll take it right now. It's better than the 7-0 and 3-0 losses we've taken."
Early on, Chivas USA controlled the possession as Real Salt Lake struggled to contain them. In the first 10 minutes alone, Chivas USA had three quality chances in front of the goal, but Real Salt Lake defenders and poor marksmanship kept Chivas USA from opening the score.
It wasn't until midway through the first half that Chivas USA finally capitalized. Torres took a pass about 40 yards out. He beat Real Salt Lake's offside trap and went in alone on keeper D.J. Countess and scored on a low left shot from just inside the penalty area.
At the end of the first half, Rusty Pierce was booked for a hard tackle on Chivas USA's Matt Taylor. Pierce barked at the referee and angrily said that Taylor was diving. On Chivas USA's next possession, Pierce knocked Taylor down when chasing a loose ball but no foul was called. Taylor stood up and knocked Pierce down from behind and was sent off.
Chivas USA continued with a full 11 players at the start of the second half, though.
"We were pushing up too high and they were hitting us with some long balls and we weren't getting any pressure on the ball and letting them make those services," RSL coach John Ellinger said. "We tried to adjust a little bit with the second group that went in and we did a little better job of that in the second half. I'm pretty happy with our progress."
Real Salt Lake made mass substitutions at halftime and the new group came out with life. Just six minutes into the second half, Kevin Novak sent a booming cross to Taylor on the left side of the field. Taylor muscled past Ryan Suarez and slipped a shot past Guzan.
"Jaime did well with it," Ellinger said. "He went against two quality players. He kept it under pressure and tucked it away which isn't easy against Brad."
With 10 minutes remaining, Chivas USA trialist Michael Erush knocked O'Brien down inside the box and the former Seattle Sounders had no problems converting the spot kick.
"Our depth is improving and it showed a little bit in the second half," Ellinger said. "The young guys have come a long way in six weeks we've had this preseason."
With the game winding down, Chivas USA put pressure on Real Salt Lake's goal and it paid off in stoppage time. With nearly everybody in RSL's third of the field, Torres took a shot from the right side of the box but the ball caromed over to the left side where Cuadros stood. Cuadros, who played the full 90 minutes, smashed a shot into the far post, giving Chivas USA its first positive result against an MLS side. Earlier this preseason, Chivas USA lost to a U.S. national team full of MLS players 7-0 and to San Jose 3-0.
Chivas USA made a positive impression on Ellinger.
"They looked pretty organized to me," he said. "They're pretty solid in the back. I don't think we did a good job of breaking them down and really putting their backs under pressure the first half. As the half went on, they got a little more tired and we were able to get in behind them better."
Despite fielding new teams, both Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA will make their presence felt, Ellinger said.
"Both of us, we're in situations where nobody expects us to do anything," he said. "Some of that pressure is gone for us. We can just go out and play. We'll surprise some teams, both of us."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject tot he approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.