In looking at the score of this game without watching or hearing of the context, a 1-0 loss for Chivas USA at the hands of Real Salt Lake sounds like a pretty good result. And while the furor over the match will surely die down in the coming weeks and months, this was about as ugly a match as you will ever see in MLS. Chivas played two-thirds of the match down one man, and about an hour down two. So again, to look at a one goal-loss when most of the game was 9 vs. 11 seems like a great result, but the events away from Will Johnson’s breakthrough goal in the 87th minute are what will be remembered in this match.
Chivas started out poorly almost from the gate, and defender Andrew Boyens’ was a step off the pace from the beginning. He fouled RSL forward Alvaro Saborio in the 15th minute when it looked like Saborio had a potential scoring chance, and RSL claimed it was a red card offense as Boyens was the last defender. But referee Paul Ward gave Boyens a yellow on the offense, and play resumed. However, Boyens could not keep up with the RSL offense, and it was only about ten minutes later when he elbowed Saborio to the ground, which resulted in a second yellow card and an early exit for Boyens.
Ten minutes after Boyens’ ejection, the pivotal moment in the game occurred. Marcos Mondaini, who had tracked back from his offensive duties to provide more defensive coverage for Chivas, tackled RSL’s Javier Morales from behind as it looked like he was about to take a shot from the edge of the box. Mondaini did not come close to catching the ball and most viewers and commentators believe he purposely meant to foul Morales to break up his rhythm in the attack. As a result of the tackle, Morales’ ankle was broken and he sustained severe ligament damage, and it was clear from the moment he hit the ground that Morales was in trouble. Play was suspended for nearly 10 minutes as the medical staff worked on Morales and eventually took him off the field on a stretcher, and he was immediately taken to the hospital. Chivas coach Robin Fraser briefly spoke to Morales as he was wheeled out of the stadium, and players from both teams seemed visibly shaken by the injury for the rest of the match.
Mondaini was eventually ejected as a result of his horror tackle, but Ward initially gave him a yellow card before realizing the extent of the injury and upgrading it to a red. Mondaini clearly deserved the red, and while I do not want to unfairly malign Ward, he has had several very badly called games this season. He got the call right eventually in this case, but perhaps he needs to sit out of MLS for a few weeks.
Of course, Mondaini will see an extensive spell on the sidelines as a result of the incident. The precedent will of course be the 9-game suspension Colorado’s Brian Mullan received for his tackle that resulted in a double-bone leg break for Seattle’s Steve Zakuani a few weeks ago. I have heard a lot of discussion about whose tackle was worse. On the one hand, Mullan’s was vengeful, after he had been dispossessed of the ball on what he believed to be an uncalled foul moments before he went after Zakuani. On the other hand, Mondaini did not even have a shot at the ball on Morales, so while he did not go in with the same force as Mullan, it was a totally unjustified challenge. In the end, I think Mondaini should get a similar penalty to Mullan, but it will be up to MLS to decide on the issue.
Frankly, there really wasn’t much else to comment on the rest of the match, as the injury cast a pall over the remaining hour of the game. Chivas held up defensively well until the deciding goal, and it must be said that out of a terrible match, goalkeeper Dan Kennedy kept Chivas in the match – without him, RSL could have easily scored four or five. I suspect that Fraser may have told his team at halftime to not try and score, as there were a few times late in the second half when Chivas came within 30 yards of goal, seemed like they could have taken a shot at attacking, but the players made no effort towards goal. I doubt Fraser told his team to lose, but I suspect he told them to go for a scoreless draw. Frankly, that seems like a fair way to approach a nightmare game, and although Chivas’ unbeaten streak is snapped, this is a game that this team will want to forget as soon as possible.
(image courtesy of realsaltlake.com)