For Chivas USA, this victory was about showing they have guts.
Following a pair of disappointing defeats at home, the Rojiblancos earned their first win of the season on Saturday evening by handing Real Salt Lake a rare defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Through the stellar goalkeeping of Dan Kennedy, the first career goal for rookie Casey Townsend and a number of bumps and bruises along the way, head coach Robin Fraser was proud of the fight his men showed in the 1-0 win.
“This is arguably the toughest place to play in the league and the guys really came in and put out an extremely gritty and gutty performance,” Fraser told MLSsoccer.com after the victory. “From beginning to end, you need to just fight and tonight, I felt like they really fought hard.”
HIGHLIGHTS: RSL 0, Chivas USA 1
That spirit was apparent from the outset as Chivas USA attempted to play an open match from the get-go despite missing their biggest attacking weapon in Juan Pablo Ángel. Without the forward’s veteran presence, it was Townsend who was forced to rise to the occasion against an experienced Salt Lake backline.
From the start, the 5-foot-11 rookie showed his tenacity by challenging RSL’s considerably larger center backs Jámison Olave and Chris Schuler – both standing taller than six feet – in the air in hopes of creating a scoring opportunity.
That opportunity finally came in the 75th minute of play as Townsend broke through for his first career MLS goal. The Maryland alum and RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando both leapt to handle an Ante Jazic cross, but Rimando was unable to bring the ball in, allowing Townsend to pounce and score from close range.
“It was just a gut play, it was all about guts,” Fraser said. “His goal was all about guts and for us, it was important that we fought and I thought he did a great job of that.”
But Townsend’s goal would not have held up if not for a brave performance by the Rojiblancos backline. As Salt Lake pushed numbers forward, Chivas defenders were repeatedly forced to put their bodies on the line to preserve the shutout. Once again it ended with Kennedy, who stepped up with key stops to preserve the result.
While the Chivas netminder made three key saves, none was bigger than his palm-save off Fabián Espíndola’s close-range effort in stoppage time.
“It was another extremely engaged and developed performance,” Fraser said of Kennedy’s play. “And when I see him play that way, we are able to grind out results.”
After feeling hard done by a pair of losses at home to open the season, Fraser believes that by cracking “The Fortress,” Chivas at long last got the victory they deserved.
“The team has played well and we haven’t gotten the results that we might’ve deserved or could’ve deserved,” said Fraser. “And to come in tonight, in what is the hardest place to play in the league, this win comes down to guts and determination.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.