By MARK EDWARD HORNISH
CARSON, Calif. — The days of three easy points against Chivas USA may be over, at least for now.
Chivas USA upset Real Salt Lake on a broiling Sunday afternoon, 1-0, to end their league-worst 12-game winless streak and add to RSL’s recent road misery. On Félix Borja’s first Major League Soccer goal, the Goats handed the Claret and Cobalt their third straight road loss and fifth consecutive match without a win away from home.
Chivas USA claimed the game’s only goal at the start of the second half when Erik Torres intercepted a Ned Grabavoy squared pass and raced in on RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Rimando got caught out off his line, and Torres beat the U.S. Men’s National Team backup with a gorgeous chip. The ball deflected down off the crossbar and directly onto the foot of the charging Borja, who slammed the ball home to give Chivas USA the lead.
“As an offensive player, you always have to think that your teammate may actually fail and not score,” Borja quipped after the match through a translator. “So I knew that the defenders were looking in at the goal, but I was still thinking it might crash into the crossbar. So I continued to follow the play, and obviously, I had the opportunity to score.”
Real Salt Lake controlled possession throughout the match, including a staggering 80 percent possession in the second half. Despite the advantage, RSL managed only one shot on target on the night.
“They’ve got some great forwards, with Plata and Saborio and Finley. We didn’t want to get stretched, so we kept everything in front of us,” said center back Bobby Burling after the match. “The difference tonight, I think it’s just a little more grit, a little more heart, and just being tougher to play against all around, from the forwards defending, to winning 1v1 battles in the back four.”
Despite the lack of possession, it was the hunkered in Chivas USA that produced multiple strong chances on the counter throughout the match, none better than when RSL defender Rich Balchan shoved Torres down from behind inside the penalty area in the 62nd minute. Balchan had subbed on early in the match after Nate Borchers left with a broken nose after a collision in his own area with fellow RSL defender Chris Schuler.
Torres stepped up to the spot, and delivered a weak shot to Rimando’s left, which Rimando smothered with ease. The block adds to Rimando’s PK stopping lore — in an RSL uniform, he has allowed only 25 goals in 39 penalty kick attempts.
But rather than lift Real Salt Lake, it was Chivas USA that continued to produce chances. Leandro Barrara forced a diving save from Rimando in the 73rd minute, and Burling banged a header off a Borja free kick that beat Rimando but clanged off the far post to keep RSL in the match.
Real Salt Lake applied late pressure, but for once, the Chivas USA defense stood strong, and produced only their second clean sheet of the year.
“We sat in our shape, and withstood their pressure, and it actually gave us more space in their half,” said team captain and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. “It was nice to take advantage of the one opportunity, and it could have been a couple more.”
Despite the three month stretch of poor form, and the rumors swirling about the league that these are the last days of Chivas USA, the mood in the Goats locker room after the match was buoyant.
“It’s been a tough road, but we still have a lot to prove,” Kennedy added. “We know that regardless of what happens, the better we do on the field, the better our futures are going to be. That’s how we’re approaching it.”
“In the end, this is the job we have, and if we want futures in this game, we gotta produce, no matter what the circumstances are. I’m just happy that today went the way it went, and that we gained confidence, and with the last three games, we just go for it. We got nothing to lose.”
Indeed, at this point, Chivas USA can only improve. The win moves them within two points of the San Jose Earthquakes and possible escape from the Western Conference cellar.
Asked about Chivas USA’s place in the standings, head coach Wilmer Cabrera did not mince words on the topic.
“Today, I think, was exactly what we needed: Joy,” he said. “We have had a very tough schedule the last month and a half. But we knew that if we can put a little bit of those new players together at the end of the schedule, October, we could start finding some points and we could close the season in a better situation. That’s our goal.”
Chivas USA will welcome the struggling Colorado Rapids at home on Saturday night. The Rapids now take over the mantle of having the longest winless streak in the MLS, and it may well be Chivas USA that enters the game as the favorite.
Real Salt Lake can only scratch their heads at their vanished road form. Tonight they had an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth. Instead, they leave Los Angeles only one point clear of fourth-placed FC Dallas and face the prospect of playing in the fourth/fifth place “play-in” game in the playoffs. RSL will play two games this week, first on the road in Portland against the Timbers on Wednesday night, before heading home to host San Jose on Saturday.
Here are the match highlights: