Photo by Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports
By MARK EDWARD HORNISH
CARSON, Calif. — With the franchise’s sale rumored soon, Major League Soccer may have counted Chivas USA out. But if you’re a Western Conference team with the Rojiblanco on your schedule over this regular season’s last stretch, you had better not.
Chivas USA rolled to their second straight win Saturday against the struggling Colorado Rapids, 2-1, in front of a small 5,033 crowd at the Stub Hub Center.
The game-winner came late in the 86th minute, when Akira Kaji sent a curling cross into the Rapids’ area. Felix Borja stepped inside his mark and headed the ball down hard past a sprawling goalkeeper Clint Irwin to record his second game-winning goal in as many matches.
“I’m happy to make the goal, but the most important thing is that we got the three points,” said an upbeat Borja after the game. “All the players, we are running, we are playing together.”
Kristopher Tyrpak, 22, electrified the home crowd when he came on as a Chivas USA substitute in the 65th minute and promptly scored his first MLS goal exactly 22 seconds later. The striker from Dripping Springs, Texas, corralled a loose ball just outside the Rapids goal area, turned and powered straight through four defenders before beating Irwin low with a toe poke goal.
“Oh man — I was just caught up in the moment, just trying to find some space,” said a beaming Tyrpak after the match. “The ball popped out, I was right there, and I tried my best to put it past the goalie. When I received the ball, Nigel was calling for the ball. I was gonna lay it off to him, but then he said, ‘Hold it!’ and it popped the right way. I turned around and I thought, ‘Might as well go for it.’ It worked out well.”
Chivas USA had much work to do to climb back into the match after being thoroughly outplayed in the first half. The Goats allowed 15 attempts on goal in opening 45 minutes, while managing only three of their own, none of which went anywhere near frame.
While Tyrpak’s goal was thrilling in its promptness, it was the Rapids’ 19-year-old Cameroonian prospect Charles Eloundou who put on the most impressive show of youthful talent, firing of six shots at Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy in the first half alone and eight on the night.
Eloundou’s crisp passing gave the Rapids the early lead, helping set up the opening goal of the night. With the ball at his feet, the Cameroonian international sprinted straight at defender Eriq Zavaleta, cut inside and then sent in fellow Rapids reserve player John Neeskens with a clever back door pass. Neeskens beat Kennedy near post low to give the Rapids the lead in the 30th minute.
Chivas USA head coach Wilmer Cabrera credited his halftime substitution of Eric Avila for yellow card machine Oswaldo Minda as a major factor in the Rojiblanco’s ability to turn the match around in the second frame.
“I think we started off tentative with the ball,” Cabrera said after the match. “Too many turnovers, and we weren’t connecting the passes. We went into the locker room and we spoke about being calm, being a little bit more relaxed, connecting.”
“We bring in Eric to try to just connect the ball, pass the ball, move the ball,” Cabrera added. “Then we continued with good mobility, good touches, good movement of the ball around the back, and in the middle, and we found the possibilities to create more options.”
Impossible as it may have seemed less a month ago, Chivas USA now climb out of the cellar of the Western Conference, a point ahead of San Jose with two games left to play. The Goats now head to Real Salt Lake Saturday night to face an opponent they upset only a week ago.
“Overall, we’re happy, because it is important to close the season with a good mentality,” Cabrera said. “Hopefully we can continue moving that way.”
For the Rapids, the pain continues. They are now winless in their last 12 matches, and are now only two points clear of a surging Chivas USA. The Rapids return home to host FC Dallas at Sporting Goods Park on Saturday.
Here are the match highlights: