This team has some fight left in them. After last week's rather embarrassing effort against San Jose, the Fire showed heart and determination during Saturday afternoon's game. Chivas USA is a fairly similar team to San Jose. A good striker (Juan Pablo Angel), paired with a somewhat slow yet effective creative midfielder (Nick LaBrocca) to go along with an above average keeper (Dan Kennedy) make up the core of their side. When these three play well Chivas is capable of winning. That formula was in evidence on Saturday afternoon as Juan Pablo and LaBroca were both effective in their roles. Dan Kennedy was not at the top of his game but he was still solid in goal.
The Fire looked to attack early and often. Instead of game planning around a defensive posture as it appeared they tried to do against San Jose the Fire looked to press the attack. Cory Gibbs goal in the second minute of the game was not by accident. The Fire pressed from the kickoff and was looking to impose their offensive will on Chivas USA. Gibbs goal in the second minute, off a set piece, was based on the quality service of Sebastian Grazini off the corner. Grazini was clearly looking for Gibbs at the back post. Credit to Gibbs for powering through the defender to get to the ball.
The Fire continued to be the aggressors throughout the first half. Chivas was offering almost nothing in return through the first half hour. The own goal off quality service from Pavel Pardo was indicative of that. The Chivas defense was all over the place on that play. Angel was forced to make a play on a bouncing ball that he clinically put in the back of his own net. The guy was full of quality finishes on this day.
Gibbs red card was a game changing event. First off it removed Cory from the game. He has been the linchpin to the defensive back four all season. While he did take a knock earlier in the game it looked like he would be able to continue for the rest of the match. Secondly Klopas decided to sub off Grazini at half in favor of more defense in the form of Yamith Cuesta. This, to me, was a foolish move. Grazini has been the midfield security blanket since he has arrived. When he plays the midfield looks cohesive and together. When he doesn't play things fall apart. The first fifteen minutes of the second half were indicative of what normally happens when he is absent from the game.
The beginning of the second half was a complete reversal from the first. Chivas dominated possession and looked threatening going forward. Juan Pablo Angel clinically finished a goal for his own team. LaBrocca cleaned up the trash, with flare, a few minutes later off a botched clearance from a set piece. Things looked to be falling apart quickly. Then something happened. The Fire found a way to stop the bleeding. Physical play increased most notably by the tandem in the middle, MIkulic and Cuesta. The midfield also managed to keep possession. Pavel Pardo became more involved in the offensive play. Marco Pappa deserves a ton of credit for his effort offensively and defensively. He worked HARD out there. Running all over the field and doing whatever his team needed him to do. Most notably in the 75the minute when, out of his own hard work and effort, he created a small chance for Dominic Oduro. The chance amounted to nothing but his continuing effort was notable as it indicated that no one on the field was giving this game up.
Double substitution in the 80th minute was the type of substitution used by a coach who is going for the win. Paladini came in for Mikulic while Chaves came in for Pappa. Two midfielders in as the team went to a three man back line as they pressed for the win. The substitutions would prove fruitful. Diego Chaves was the catalyst of the game winning goal. He was able to keep possession of the ball through two Chivas defenders and then lay off a terrific pass to Nyarko. At that point all Nyarko had to do was slot the ball across to an oncoming Dominic Oduro who calmly put the ball in the back of the net as Chivas was screaming for an offsides call that (rightly) would never come. A fantastic play initiated by a player who exemplifies what this comeback was all about. Perseverance in the face of failure.
Other thoughts: The double substitution may have been Klopas' best coaching move all season long. He still insists on having Husidic on the bench but Victor Pineda also made the bench after a solid performance during the Chivas de Guadalajara friendly on Wednesday night. Nazarit was, rightfully, dropped from the 18. So in all a solid night for the "interim" manager. Mikulic continues to show some rust from not seeing regular minutes yet he was much better in this game than during the friendly. Cuesta was able bodied and put in his normal workman like effort off the bench. Grazini again was influential for the team. He needs to be on the field as much as possible. With the disappearance of Marco Pappa's goal scoring touch Patrick Nyarko is the best offensive option the team has at winger right now. Another evening of stellar play from the withdrawn forward/winger hybrid position that he now plays. Chivas USA's back line is not very good. Terrible positioning from one central defender kept everyone else onside during the decisive play of the game. The Fire still need an effective center forward for next season. If they would have had one during this game a couple of more goals could have been scored. Dom Oduro scored his TENTH regular season goal of the year. He is the first fire player to do that since 2004 (Damani Ralph). Thanks Dom!
I'll see you all next Sunday at 3 PM for some Brimstone Cup action.