Things started falling apart at the end for Chivas USA. As Javier Morales was subbed off, Jason Kreis shifting to protect a late, 1-0 lead, José Luís “El Chelís” Sánchez Solá decided to have a few words with the Real Salt Lake star, a confrontation that saw the Chivas boss sent off. When, moments later, Edgar Meija lifted an elbow to Ned Grabovoy’s face, the Goats were left to see out the rest of their 1-0 loss a man down and with a void in the technical area.
For Chivas, the frustration had been building throughout the second half, a new team that was giving a strong performance at Rio Tinto thwarted by an even stronger performance from their hosts. They’d survived an opening stanza that could have seen RSL go up through Olmes Garcia (crossbar), Alvaro Saborio (lob over the goal), Ned Grabavoy (missed header) or Luis Gil (stoned by Dan Kennedy). Toward the end of the half, Chivas leveled play, and through the middle of the second period, the Goats were almost RSL’s equals.
I say almost because there’s this itsy, bitsy piece of decisiveness that separated the sides in the 53rd minute – Real Salt Lake’s goal:
RSL’s was a very well-worked play, Garcia sending Saborío through before the Costa Rican crossed for Morales. You don’t usually associate the Argentine playmaker with that kind of finishing, but with that much room, it was no problem for the veteran midfielder to put the winner inside Kennedy’s right post.
It was the type of goal the match deserved. While we’ve become used to Chivas games becoming competitive in midfield while Chelis’s team tries to hit their opponents on the counter, this game was played more on RSL’s terms. As a result, there was fluidity to it. Instead of countering off turnovers in the middle third, Chivas was transitioning off movements toward goal, their forays out of their own end giving this an entertaining, back-and-forth feel.
The result was one of RSL’s most encouraging performances of the year. Javier Morales, arguably the man of the match, is returning to his former self. Alvaro Saborio was his typical defense-drawing threat, while Olmes Garcia has looked better in the Fabian Espindola role than anybody else Kreis has tried this year. With a strong performance at the back keyed by Nick Rimando’s penalty save, RSL convinced at both ends.
If you ignore the late dismissals, you could say similar things about Chivas. While it’d be too strong to say it was one of their best performances, they were still able to go toe-to-toe at Rio Tinto. Even in their second straight 1-0 loss, Chivas showed how far they’ve come.