Chivas USA suffered yet another last-second loss Saturday night, the kind of loss that has been a Chivas trademark all season. And that did not make it any less difficult on the players.
Chivas 'keeper Brad Guzan sat in a yet another quiet and somber locker room, stunned after having helplessly watched two close-range headers go by in San Jose's 2-1 victory against the Red-and-White.
"We played our hearts out tonight. That's what really (stinks)," Guzan said. "You go out there for 87 minutes and bust your butt and come away with a loss."
Loose man-marking from Chivas helped San Jose's Danny Califf get the equalizer in the 81st minute and contributed to Alejandro Moreno's stoppage-time game-winner. In fact, it was as if the Earthquakes had had time to call a pre-planned play and executed it with perfection.
First, Dwayne De Rosario found Eddie Robinson unmarked on the right flank on a corner kick. Robinson headed the ball back to the front of the goal and Califf, alone inside the area, knocked a header into an empty goal.
"Second goal, same thing: guys cornered the ball, whips in a cross to a guy just standing on the far post and we lose our marks again and he's got an open net," Guzan said. "At this level, when you leave a guy 12 yards from goal, more than likely he's going to finish it."
Players were at a loss for words afterward.
"This one really hurts," Chivas forward Antonio Martinez said. "We had the game won. I don't know what happened at the end."
Chivas had taken the lead on a free kick from Ramon Ramirez. The club's skipper fired a 27-yard free kick into the back of the net to give Chivas a second-half lead. However, as has happened on several occasions this season, Chivas could not translate a late lead into a victory.
Saturday marked the third time in the past five games in which Chivas USA held a second-half lead and failed to protect it. Overall, the Red-and-White have come-from-ahead in the second half to either lose or tie six times (three ties, three losses).
It appeared as if the club was headed toward a different fate Saturday, however. Guzan made a pair of stellar second-half saves, including a reaction save on Ricardo Clark in the 62nd minute, that helped preserve the short-lived lead.
Chivas boss Hans Westerhof chose not to bring on an extra defender to help preserve Chivas' slight edge, however. In the 73rd minute, Westerhof made a straight midfielder-for-midfielder swap when he brought in Jesus Ochoa for Ramirez. With the game even in the 89th minute, Westerhof brought in Matt Taylor for Martinez.
Meanwhile, defender Armando Begines, who has 18 starts at defender this season, finished the game on the bench.
"I was satisfied with Orlando [Perez], Ezra [Hendrickson] ... they did their job well," Westerhof said. "You can play with one defender more but you will lose in the midfield. ... We didn't need one more defender."
Guzan said that no matter the personnel on the field, Chivas should have done more to hold onto the lead.
"We didn't make that change and we've got to live with it with the guys on the field," Guzan said. "Maybe you don't make a run forward at the end of the game that you normally make at the beginning of the game when it's 0-0. Maybe you hold back for someone else that goes. There are so many different scenarios. As professionals, we have to be able to adjust to the game and not worry about, 'Hey, we should have brought so-and-so on.'"
On the offensive side, Chivas failed for the third consecutive match to score a goal in the run of play. The club's finishing was off although San Jose 'keeper Pat Onstad made a fine save late in the match, stopping an 18-yard shot by Juan Pablo Garcia that would have given Chivas a 2-1 lead.
"We had our possibilities especially in the second half. We played better but it was not good enough," Westerhof said. "The first half, it was more or less even also in chances. ... We had the possibilities to win the game."
In the end, it was another case of poor defending that cost the club what would have been an uplifting victory.
"We need to be able to learn to keep a lead. When we learn to do that, then we'll be able to win 1-0, 2-1, whatever," Guzan said. "Until we learn how to keep a lead, it's going to be the same stuff."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.