Chivas USA earned their second home victory of the season Saturday by a 1-0 margin against the Portland Timbers. The difference in the match was a 70th minute goal by Marcos Mondaini on a cross from Paulo Nagamura. It was a big statement from both players, who have missed considerable time. Mondaini was suspended for four games after his ankle-breaking tackle on Javier Morales in the Real Salt Lake game and was seeing his first action for a month, and he looked like he wanted to make amends for his absence. Meanwhile, Nagamura started his first match of the season for the Goats after missing most of the season with a calf injury, and played most of the match, and his return is a huge boost for a team that needs all hands on deck moving forward. The fact that these players are contributing means Chivas will finally be able to build some squad depth and be able to rotate the lineup during a long season.
The first half was quite entertaining despite a lack of goals. Chivas had the majority of possession, and Mondaini and Nick LaBrocca in particular looked likely to unlock the Portland defense. In contrast to the midweek game against Vancouver, Chivas held onto the ball and their passing was excellent in this match, so it seems likely that the quality of the players on the field and the chemistry of the team made the difference. Despite the quality of play, Chivas had yet to find a way to score, and considering their shaky defense over the past couple of games, it was cause for concern going into halftime.
After the restart, Portland seemed to wrestle some of the control back, and possession was more evenly split as they tried to beat Chivas at their own game. Although the play was rather open in the second half, it was more pressure-packed and both sides seemed less willing to play a freewheeling style. It also seemed like if a goal was scored, it would probably make the difference, and that is indeed what happened. Chivas got on the break and Nagamura’s cross into the 6 yard box was perfectly placed for Mondaini to run onto and blast into the net. The Home Depot Center seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief, but the objective following the goal was to stop the Timbers from equalizing. The match commentators made fun of Coach Robin Fraser’s facial expressions in sweating out the last 20 minutes, but frankly, it was a tall task for the Goats to make sure another club would not equalize the game, as it had happened four times in the last two matches. Essentially, Chivas tried a three-pronged approach of keeping bodies back in their half, holding onto possession as long as possible and wasting time. In the end, they were successful and Chivas held on for the victory.
There were a lot of strong performances in the match for Chivas, but the two standouts were Mondaini and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. Kennedy came up big yet again and had several saves in both halves that preserved the three points. His distribution was also excellent, and he had several long throws into Portland’s half that Chivas players reached on stride to start attacks. If Kennedy can continue to use this part of his game, it will be a big tool for him and for Chivas.
As a result of the victory, Chivas have leapfrogged Portland in the Western Conference standings and now sit in sixth place with 17 points. It is worth noting that if they were in the Eastern Conference their record would put them in third place, so despite belonging to the stronger conference the playoff system this season could ultimately help the Goats out. But there’s a lot of soccer left to play before the playoff scenarios can be sketched out in detail, and Chivas need to look to the game next week in Houston against the Dynamo to see if they can make more headway in the standings.
(image courtesy of Juan Miranda/Chivas USA)