If big defensive plays, heroic kind of stuff, wasn't going to be enough Saturday afternoon for Chivas USA -- and it sure didn't look like it would be -- the Goats got the help they required from an unexpected source.
Chivas USA withstood one penalty kick and might have been doomed by another, but referee Kevin Stott's decisions at critical moments clearly favored the Goats.
It enabled them to claim a share of the points following an often sizzling 0-0 draw with the Seattle Sounders in front of 36,364 at CenturyLink Field, a result that kept Chivas (7-8-9) in the No. 10 spot on Major League Soccer's overall table, the last playoff slot. Houston, in 11th, can leapfrog the Goats with a win Sunday over Portland.
Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and defender Michael Umaña played hero for Chivas, making massive defensive plays to deny the Sounders should-be goals, as the Goats' failure to create scoring opportunities from decent possession nearly proved costly.
Kennedy made two big stops, Umaña made another, and the backline continually cleared the area to prevent Seattle from turning its chances into shots.
“We don't want to rely on individuals to make unbelievable plays,” Fraser said. “We want to be solid as a team, and in that respect, we certainly didn't feel we were good enough in the second half. We needed some very, very key individual plays, individual moments.”
The game turned on two penalty decisions, the first against the Goats and the second, a no-call, securing for them the draw. Both went Chivas' way.
The Sounders were awarded a spot kick in the 18th minute when Alvaro Fernandez lifted the ball into Umaña's hand -- the correct call, although Chivas thought Fernandez should have been whistled for a hand ball when he pulled down a cross before dribbling into the Goats' box.
Kennedy couldn't stop Fernandez's penalty, guessing right (and diving to his right) to cover every inch to the lower-left post. The rolling shot was just beyond him, struck the post, rebounded back, hit Kennedy in the upper back and ricocheted wide of the post.
“I knew I had a great jump. I thought it was going wide,” Kennedy said. “Then I heard it clank off the post, and it hit me so quickly. It took me a fraction of a second to figure out it went wide.”
The Sounders deserved another penalty in the 89th minute. Lamar Neagle attacked from the left, pushed the ball past debutant David Junior Lopes, then went down after the Brazilian defender stuck his leg out. Stott pointed in the general direction of the penalty spot, the Sounders' fans roared, and Neagle picked up the ball to get it to Fernandez for another PK.
Only thing was Stott was pointing to the 6-yard box -- a sign that he'd awarded a goal kick.
“The way he called it, I was definitely scared,” Kennedy said. “A majority of the guys thought he was pointing to the spot. Really.”
Stott should have been. Replays made it clear Lopes had tripped Neagle.
“I took a touch by him, and I think I got clipped,” Neagle said. “I haven’t been known to dive ever in my life. I haven’t practiced it or anything like that. What can you do?”
Said Kennedy: “We'll take it. We've had some calls go against us. It's onlhy fair that, hopefully, it ends up even for everybody.”
A quick look at Chivas' draw:
BEST PLAYER: Kennedy was again tremendous, making two huge saves -- slapping away Pat Noonan's drive in the 50th minute and stopping Fernandez point-blank with his knee in the 77th -- doing a great job of keeping his net protected on Fernandez's penalty kick and keeping command of his box under heavy pressure in the second half.
“He's been phenomenal,” Fraser said. “I really, really want us to get to a point where we're not talking about Dan. That means we're playing even more solid defense and Dan has less to do. ...
“Seriously, he was fantastic. He has had way too much to do at certain points throughout the year but has done his job superbly. As I watch him he gets better and better and his confidence grows more. Our team breeds off his confidence.”
Also very good: Umaña and left back Ante Jazic for Chivas, Fernandez, Mauro Rosales and holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso for Seattle.
BEST GOAL: That there weren't any follows course. Half of the six league meetings have ended scoreless -- and Chivas has shut out Seattle in five of the six.
Chivas didn't have many chances -- Kasey Keller was tested once all night, in the first half by Alejandro Moreno -- and wasn't about to score, but the Sounders might have had a half-dozen with more clinical finishing and fewer defensive heroics by the Goats.
Fernandez ought to have had two, or three: He was just off-target on the penalty kick, got stuffed by Kennedy near the end, and wasn't given the opportunity to convert from the spot after Neagle went down. Rosales and Fredy Montero had chances, and Noonan deserved better at the start of the second half or with one of his two dangerous headers about 15 minutes in.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: The Goats weren't good but won points on the road for the second straight week, so consider this one a success. They had problems in the back, with errors enabling Seattle entrance to their box and superb individual defending preventing the Sounders from making anything from their forays, and created virtually nothing up front, even with most of the possession.
The inability to turn possession into real chances against a superbly organized Sounders defense was the costliest of the struggles -- it led to turnovers in bad areas, with the Sounders sprinting into the attacking third again and again in the second half.
“I thought a lot of [Seattle's late dominance] was our poor decisions in the second half with the ball,” Fraser said. “Times we should dribble versus times we should pass, where we didn't do as well in the second half. ... You turn it over, and they run at you.”
The pressure led to miscues -- the most dangerous near the end of the first half, when a give-away by Heath Pearce, celebrating his 27th birthday, gave Tyson Wahl an open shot he shanked wide -- which provided the Sounders' chances. Thank god for big plays, although Chivas wishes it didn't have to.
“There are moments where you have to make big plays, especially on the road ...,” Kennedy said. “That's going to be part of getting results on the road. [Home teams are] going to throw a bit more forward, and we'll have to step it up. Even though it's more [big plays] than we would like, for us to execute is a very positive thing.”
WORTH NOTING: Forward Marcos Mondaini was in the starting XI, his first league appearance in five games, but he was gone by the 23rd. He took a clearance in the right eye at close range just 45 seconds into the game -- “like a punch in the eye,” Fraser put it -- and although he stayed on, he had “lingering problems with his vision.” Might it be a concussion? “That word has not been uttered,” the coach said. “So I don't think so.” ... Lopes had a rough go in his debut, beaten badly by Nate Jaqua at one point and getting away with that foul on Neagle. "It was a difficult situation to put him into. In retrospect maybe it wasn’t fair to him,” Fraser said. “Nate Jaqua had just been subbed in, and we thought size for size it was a good idea to get him in on crosses that were coming. It is very difficult as a defender to come in on the second half and match the speed of the game.” ... French midfielder Laurent Courtois came on at halftime but was neither as efficient nor as effective as in a 25-minute stint in his MLS debut last week at New England. ... Chivas managed just four shots (to Seattle's 10) but put more on target, 4-3. The Goats also had more possession, won more duels and connected on more and a higher percentage of passes. ...
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said a third penalty should have been called after Umaña muscled Jaqua away from danger late in the second half. “He took his entire body and arms and pushes him three feet and nothing gets called,” Schmid said. “I thought that one should have been called. It was pretty easy.” ... Schmid, on his team's difficulties scoring against Chivas: “Maybe more snake-bitten, because it has been three different coaches, so it’s not like they play the same defensively. ... It just seems for some reason that scoring goals against them, they’re a little bit of a bogey team for us, a hard-luck team.” ... Schmid didn't include defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado nor forward O'Brian White on his game roster. Hurtado, he said, would be on the field Tuesday in a CONCACAF Champions League game, but White, who is coming back from blood-clot surgery, suffered a complication that has not been fully diagnosed. ... Stott attended Brethren High School when it was based in Paramount and lives in Chino.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “We're happy to get a point, for sure,” Fraser said. “A point is better than none, no question. At times we were really good, and the really good wouldn't turn into being dangerous enough. That's a lasting impression.
“The problems could have been a lot worse. [Seattle] had a number of chances. Obviously, they had a penalty. In the end, we're happy to get the point.”
NEXT: Saturday, Aug. 20, at Colorado, 6 p.m. (KWHY/Channel 22 and KDOC/Channel 56)
CenturyLink Field (Seattle)
Seattle Sounders 0, Chivas USA 0
Seattle Sounders: Kasey Keller; James Riley, Zach Scott, Jeff Parke, Tyson Wahl; Mauro Rosales, Erik Friberg, Osvaldo Alonso, Alvaro Fernandez; Pat Noonan (Nate Jaqua, 69), Fredy Montero (Lamar Neagle, 83).
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; Zarek Valentin (David Junior Lopes, 73), Michael Umaña, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic; Nick LaBrocca, Simon Elliott, Blair Gavin, Jorge Flores (Laurent Courtois, 46); Alejandro Moreno, Marcos Mondaini (Justin Braun, 23). Unused subs: Paulo Nagamura, Zach Thornton. Mariano Trujillo, Ben Zemanski.
Yellow cards: Wahl 23, LaBrocca 34, Elliott 45, Jazic 80, Friberg 89.
Referee: Kevin Stott. Att.: 36,364.