Starting this week, MLSsoccer.com will look back at the 2011 season team by team. We continue our 2011 in Review series today with Chivas USA. Click here for the full archive.
Year One of Robin Fraser's “building” project at Chivas USA was a learning experience. Numerous times throughout the year, the Rojiblancos were failed by lapses in concentration that proved the difference between the postseason and the offseason. Chivas may have had their struggles, but look to improve in Year Two of Fraser's tenure.
With the spectacular goalkeeping of Dan Kennedy, steady defending of Heath Pearce as well a bevy of young talent in Blair Gavin and Michael Lahoud among others, Chivas USA established a solid foundation upon which to build for 2012.
Best Moment of the Year
With the bright lights of Red Bull Arena shining down upon them on May 15, Justin Braun's hat trick inspired Chivas USA to their third victory of the season in a swashbuckling 3-2 win. The striker was able to capitalize on a goalkeeping miscue by Bouna Coundoul and tapped in the decisive third goal. Braun's hat trick and the club's resilience against the Red Bulls offensive onslaught showcased Chivas' ability to challenge and, in some cases, defeat the league's most talented teams.
Worst Moment of the Year
Chivas' playoff hopes went up in smoke on August 24 when Portland Timbers defender Eric Brunner rose above the Rojiblancos defense and connected on a header just before halftime. That goal catapulted the Timbers up the standings in the race for the final wild card berth at Chivas' expense. After their 1-0 defeat to the Timbers at JELD-WEN Field, the Rojiblancos didn’t seriously factor into the playoff race, sliding to a 1-5-2 record from there on out.
In the 45th minute of a home date with the New England Revolution, Marcos Mondaini channeled Bruce Lee in the Goats’ finest goal of the season. Alejandro Moreno burst down the left side and fired a cross to Mondaini, who eluded the Revs defense and finished the chance with an acrobatic right-footed volley. The Argentine's karate kick goal helped seal a 3-0 victory for the Rojiblancos.
On Aug. 6 at Gillette Stadium, the New England Revolution were threatening to equalize after Chivas jumped to a 2-0 lead. In the 78th minute, Shalrie Joseph found space behind the Chivas defense on a set piece and fired a header from close range. Dan Kennedy was able to step up and make a quick reaction and parry away the ball once more before it crossed the line. The Rojiblancos fed off Kennedy's save as they marched up field and put the match out of reach just moments later when Moreno scored to seal a 3-2 victory.
Team MVP: Dan Kennedy
After battling back from a season-ending injury in 2010, Kennedy enjoyed a Goalkeeper of the Year-type campaign in 2011. Earning the No. 1 shirt in the third match of the season, Kennedy was repeatedly responsible for keeping Chivas USA in games, making spectacular saves seem almost routine. He finished the season with 100 saves, setting himself up to be one of the key contributors next season.
Best Newcomer: Heath Pearce
Brought in on March 15 in a trade from FC Dallas, Pearce made the move from the outside to center back after Jimmy Conrad suffered a concussion in Chivas' second game. From the middle, Pearce quickly became the club's leader in the back line and established himself as one of the league's top center backs. His stellar play earned him his second straight All-Star appearance and a call-up to the US national team. Although Pearce was limited down the stretch due to a right hamstring injury, he shined in his first season with the Rojiblancos.
1. Re-sign Juan Pablo Ángel: When the Colombian striker joined Chivas from the LA Galaxy in midseason, he gave the club the elite striker they had been lacking. Scoring seven goals in nine appearances, Ángel was a revelation and appeared to enjoy his time playing in Fraser's system. The front office has stated that retaining him will need to be a “mutual decision” between both parties, but with the club shaving payroll in the offseason, retaining the forward and his high salary seems plausible. If not, then the search for a top forward will continue all over again.
2. Continue to bolster attack with experience: Chivas have been active this offseason, adding right back James Riley and winger Ryan Smith while dealing away key contributors in Braun, Paulo Nagamura and Zarek Valentin. In the months ahead, Fraser will need to continue to add pieces to his possession-oriented offense to complement the steady play of All-Star midfielder Nick LaBrocca.
3. Find their focus: Early goals and surrendering possession in dangerous locations repeatedly doomed Chivas in 2011, routinely proving the difference between three points and zero. Fraser has admitted that, for his club to become competitive next season, they must develop the ability to focus over 90 minutes. It is a trait that will likely not be corrected simply by bringing in new blood in the offseason, but on the training ground once preseason begins in mid-January.