James Riley and Rauwshan McKenzie of Chivas USA
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Chivas USA streak owes debt to strong defense, 'keeping

CARSON, Calif. – Chivas USA are not going to overwhelm anyone. At this point, we've learned at least that.

Suffocation has proven to be this team’s calling card, and has been a much more effective method.

Chivas have scored just 12 goals in 18 games, but the fact that they are just four points behind the LA Galaxy for the final Western Conference playoff spot is a testament to the stinginess of their defense.

“You build confidence from that,” Chivas USA coach Robin Fraser said. “When you get shutouts you have a belief that, regardless of the conditions on any particular day, if you play to a zero you can win.”

HIGHLIGHTS: Chivas USA 1, Portland 0

Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Portland was the club’s sixth shutout of the season and have nine games in which they have yielded just one goal. While the team continues to develop in the attacking third, keeping things tight on the backline will only help going forward.

“As we continue to grow as an attacking team, it’s important that we feel like we can keep ourselves in game,” Fraser said. “There is that belief because we have been able to get a few shutouts.”

With Fraser – a two-time MLS Defender of the Year – in charge and former standout defenders Greg Vanney and Carlos Llamosa on the coaching staff, perhaps a strong defense is simply a natural evolution of the staff’s philosophy. But having strong players around has certainly helped, and having stability in the backline has been beneficial as well.

“We’ve been playing a lot of games together,” center back Danny Califf said. “Since I’ve gotten here, there have only been two changes and that’s due to injury and things like that. We’ve developed a good bond and a work ethic as a group.”

What makes the defensive record perhaps a bit astounding is the time the respective defenders have been with the club. James Riley, Raushawn McKenzie and John Valencia all joined prior to the 2012 season. Califf arrived via trade in May. Left back Ante Jazic is the only pre-Fraser member of the backline.

Dan Kennedy also pre-dates Fraser and has been a key member of the club. His efforts have been recognized beyond the locker room as Kennedy was named to the 2012 MLS All-Star Team, the club’s lone representative.

While Kennedy’s 1.00 goals-against average is superb and his saves have ranged from the solid to the spectacular, he is reaping the rewards for the efforts of the entire unit.

“It certainly is a nice tribute to Dan for sure and a credit to the group for the hard work they’ve been doing,” Fraser said.

In fact, Kennedy’s place in the squad is merely a reflection of just how stingy this defense has been.

“Our goals against is pretty decent,” Fraser said. “Obviously that’s not just going to be attributable to Dan. The group as a whole has been working hard and working well. Much like everything else in soccer, individual accolades really are a reflection of people that you have around you. It’s very rare you have someone get an individual accolade in soccer and it has nothing to do with the people around you.”

Luis Bueno covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at buenodad@gmail.com.

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