In the first half of Saturday’s game against the Colorado Rapids, Chivas USA looked like a team possessed. Seemingly undaunted by the altitude, the crowd, or the fact that they were playing an in-form side, they looked fully capable of locking down a result, possibly even an elusive road victory.
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They passed well. They found holes in the Rapids’ defense and sent good balls into the area from the flanks. They tested the Colorado backline early, forcing a flying save from Matt Pickens in the 4th minute from Paulo Nagamura’s header.
More than anything, however, they were finally playing with the kind of attitude that was so sorely lacking from Wednesday’s effort against Seattle in the US Open Cup. They were confident. Cocky, even.
Head coach Martín Vásquez paced the sidelines, shouting orders to his troops. Michael Lahoud harried every pass that Colorado attempted through the midfield. Ben Zemanski hovered around Omar Cummings like a fly at a landfill. The Goats weren’t going to be pushed around.
Even after Conor Casey scored the opening goal in the 52nd minute, it still looked like the Red-and-White could rally. Casey’s goal was fluky at best—a toe-poked rebound after Cummings’ swirling shot perplexed Zach Thornton and the ball popped loose.
The Goats weren’t going quietly this time. When Cummings again came at them in the 61st minute, big Chivas centerback Yamith Cuesta simply pushed the Jamaican over with both hands. He was given a yellow card for the foul, but the message was sent: “We’re not going to make this easy.”
Then, it all disappeared. Perhaps tired from the thin Denver air or unbalanced by the introductions of Justin Braun and Sal Zizzo in the 58th and 59th minutes, the Goats imploded. Cummings sealed their fate, scoring first in the 68th before adding a second in the 81st.
This late-game loss of focus is nothing new for Chivas. They have yet to overcome an early deficit this season; they have 11 defeats and three draws when their opponents score first. The trend was particularly bad in May, when the Goats conceded a game-winning goal in the final minutes of play in three consecutive matches.
Vásquez has always cited a lack of concentration for such allowances, and his prognosis is surely apt for Saturday’s game. The Goats didn’t have a bad game, per se; they just lost focus in the final 25 minutes of play.
There’s no quick fix: time, more integration of the many new players on the roster, a little bit of luck.
If the Red-and-White can solve this issue, they will prove to be a problematic foe for the rest of this season and set themselves up for a good 2011. If they can’t, there will be a few more frustrating nights ahead.