Chivas USA sunk to the bottom of the Western Conference on Saturday night after their second defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes in the space of two weeks. The visitors arrived at the HDC riding high at the top of the Conference and left with a 2-0 victory that certainly wasn’t short of talking points. A controversial penalty, an under-pressure Head Coach ejected from the game, and a goalless home performance all equated to another miserable night for Chivas USA.
Dropping to the bottom of the league, the Goats have now extended their winless run to seven games and again failed to give any sort of hope to fans in a thoroughly dismal season. With the objective of the playoffs now relegated, Chivas USA should now simply be playing for pride…especially at home. However, this was the eighth time this year that they have failed to score in front of their loyal supporters. Although the result and its significance make it hard to find any positives from this match, on paper, it may not be as bad as it sounds. It definitely was not the worst performance we have seen from the Rojiblancos this season and it is important to remember they were playing arguably the stand-out team of 2012.
The stats from this game, for once, suggest that Chivas USA put up more of a fight than they have over recent weeks. With San Jose only just edging possession with 50.4%, Chivas USA actually managed more attempts on goal and corner kicks than the visitors, which is undoubtedly an improvement on previous games at the HDC this season. With a good first half performance and some encouraging play, at first glance, this may seem like Chivas USA were hard done by (which some people are suggesting). Despite that stats and ‘improved’ performance though, a positive result for Chivas USA was always against the odds. The controversial penalty did change the game, but San Jose played well and were always in control of their 3 points. The Goats are in a terrible run of form, failing to find the back of the net on a regular basis, and continuing to raise the pressure on head coach Robin Fraser. This game was simply too much of a challenge for a team that is under-performing.
Despite a decent start to the game from Chivas USA it was San Jose who took the lead in controversial fashion. In the 39th minute, Alan Gordon was brought down in the box by John Valencia’s elbow in what was the major talking point of this game. The referee belatedly blew his whistle and after much deliberation with his assistant, booked Valencia and awarded the Earthquakes a PK. Chivas’ coaching staff was incensed at this decision, and even more so when Chris Wondolowski converted the resultant spot kick.
Firstly, there was no question that this was not a penalty. Valencia was not only guilty of a stupid challenge on Gordon but of creating a situation that changed the game for the Goats. What angered the coaching staff was the fact that this call was seemingly awarded by the fourth official way back in midfield. Assistant Coach Greg Vanney spoke to the media after the game:
“The frustration is, having seen the replay, one of our players puts us in a tough situation…the frustration is also that none of the officials actually involved in the game actually saw it. It was the fourth official who called it all the way from midfield. I’m not really sure how that plays out and whose responsibility is what, but I know the two linesman or the center actually didn’t see the play.”
I understand the frustration coming from the fact the referee and linesmen missed the incident but not the confusion that comes from the role of the fourth official. Despite having various different responsibilities during the game, one responsibility they all share is watching the game and assisting the referee in making calls he might have missed (and this includes the 4th official). They are all part of the officiating team. You read all too often about referee’s assistants missing important incidents or not playing their part in helping the referee…this was the opposite. In this case it was an example of not only a good call, but a correct decision being made that could have easily been avoided. If it was Chivas USA claiming a penalty kick at the other end…wouldn’t they want any available official to help them out?
The penalty changed the game; however it was the second goal that put the game beyond the Rojiblancos. Just four minutes after the half, ex-Goat Alan Gordon played another major part in the game when, after some good work from Morrow and Wondolowski, he sent the ball past probably the most frustrated man on the field – Dan Kennedy.
After arguing his way out of the game, Robin Fraser was replaced by his assistant Greg Vanney but unfortunately the stand-in couldn’t inspire the players into any sort of comeback. It was also perhaps fitting that Chivas USA fans witnessed a different coach taking charge of their Goats in the second half. After another disappointing night on their own turf, not seeing Robin Fraser patrol the touchline or speaking to the media afterwards is what a lot of fans were campaigning for before, during and after the game.
It has to be noted that one highlight of this match was the performance of Miller Bolaños. In any recent Chivas USA match recap, it is normally only Dan Kennedy who leaves with an honorable mention but Bolaños takes that award this week. He was the only real threat to the San Jose defense and the little attacker is just one player who epitomizes one thing Chivas USA do have….potential. The starting line-up was as follows:
Looking at that line-up (and the subs/reserve bench) not only before kick-off on Saturday, but at the start of the season, you wouldn’t blame any Chivas USA fans for thinking 2012 was going to a breakthrough year. Saturday however, was just another display of players underperforming and not fulfilling their potential. Not only are fans becoming upset with the coach but they are also becoming increasingly frustrated with the players. One player who has cut a frustrated figure himself recently is Dan Kennedy. He described the current situation as one of the ‘lower lows’ with his time at the club and this is exactly what Saturday was…just another low, in a series of lows.
At the end of this season, the manger might keep his job or he might, as expected, be shown the door. New players might even arrive in a roster shake-up, with some being shipped out as a result. Whatever happens with the personnel, one thing that will remain are the loyal fans that have faithfully cheered on Chivas USA throughout all the misery of 2012. It is just a shame then that no matter what happens in the last 7 games of the season it will still be a tall order for Chivas USA to repay any of that faith.
(image courtesy of Getty Images)