Throughout the preseason, Chivas USA have been a team in search of a test that will determine just where they stack up among the league's elite.
They took that test on Thursday and earned their first result of the Portland Timbers Tournament, battling the hosts to a 1-1 draw off a goal from Cesar Romero. After falling to Swedish side AIK earlier in the week, the Rojiblancos struck first against the Timbers and controlled play during some stretches of the match before conceding a late equalizer.
The Portland trip has been a proving ground of sorts for Robin Fraser's men, who have battled the elements as well as their opposition during the week-long stay in the Pacific Northwest.
With one match left before their March 11 season opener against the Houston Dynamo, Fraser believes that the unkind weather conditions in Portland and the ferocious atmosphere of JELD-WEN Field have been beneficial to a team still in its formative stages.
“You get away and you deal with some adversity; we trained in driving snow and rain [on Wednesday], and you bond through those things,” Fraser told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview after the match. “We’ve had some tough games, some physically demanding games, and [Thursday’s game] was one where we fought and obviously, we want to win, but we’re proud of the way that we fought together. And I thought we grew as a team.”
Romer continues his scoring tear
One of the brightest spots this preseason has been the rise of Romero, who catapulted himself from indoor soccer to MLS with a string of stellar outings.
Romero shined again on Thursday, going 90 minutes and scoring his fourth goal of the preseason.The striker tormented the Portland defense numerous times during the match, frequently slipping behind the back line to generate scoring chances. With the season a little more than a week away, Romero believes that he’s ready to contribute.
“I’m really excited right now," he told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. "Every day I just keep working harder and harder for that starting position or to be that first option to play. My strength is finding those little spaces behind the defense, and once [my teammates and I] get more familiar with one another, then we’ll be very dangerous.”
Trialists Souza, Gordon contribute in draw
Two trialists hoping to follow in Romero's footsteps played major roles for the Goats in the Portland match. Defender Scott Gordon earned the start at left back, going 90 minutes in his first in-game appearance since joining camp last weekend.
“I thought he was solid,” said Fraser. “Tough for a guy that hasn’t gone the full 90 minutes in a long time – it’s a tough, tough spot to jump into that with a new team. Also, these are very difficult conditions to do well and I thought he did well.”
Meanwhile, Brazilian winger Alan Souza had an uneven performance against the Timbers, tallying an assist on Romero’s opener but committing several turnovers during his 45 minutes of action. As a result, Fraser tempered expectations for Souza, stating after the match that the player “probably did not have the best night that he’s had with us.”
Two other trialists, defender Matt Dallman and Colombian midfielder José Nájera, did not feature against Portland.
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.