Chivas USA makes its final stop Wednesday on a five-game string of away matches, facing the Portland Timbers in front of their rabid fan base, before returning to Home Depot Center this weekend a very different team from the one that last played there a month ago.
Nimble acquisitions, improving health and chemistry and just rewards in difficult conditions have over a series of treks -- to Dallas, Foxborough, Seattle, Denver and now Portland -- taken the Goats to the next step in their development under first-year coach Robin Fraser.
Chivas is gutting out results on the road, following a victory at New England with draws at Seattle (0-0) and last week at Colorado (2-2), a potential sign-post match if the Goats do go on to the postseason and accomplish anything there.
A knack for giving away leads cost Chivas points early in the campaign, but the Rojiblancos rallied twice -- through newcomers Juan Pablo Angel and Laurent Courtois -- in a gutsy display against the reigning MLS Cup champion way up in the Rockies.
“It was great character there to win against the defending champs at their place,” said Fraser, who by misidentifying the draw as a victory confirms the importance of the result.
That's what he says he's been happiest with on the road “trip”: “The growth of character.”
“I think we've been in some difficult situations and difficult circumstances,” he said, “and we see the team continuing to grow and deal with difficult circumstances better than they have, really, all year.”
The Goats are starting to claim points when they're not at their best, a very good thing. Seattle should have beaten Chivas by two goals, at least; Colorado would have won if not for Courtois' 86th-minute finish from Michael Lahoud's superb run.
Rather than three losses in four games, Chivas has just one, with 115-degree heat index in North Texas.
“Against Colorado, I don't think we played well in the first half, and I thought we played better in the second half ...,” Fraser said. “In Seattle, especially, I thought there were moments where we played exceptionally well; however, we weren't dangerous enough. ... I wouldn't say it's that we're not playing well. We play well in spurts. We just need to play well for longer spurts and be more consistent throughout the game.”
Are the spurts getting longer?
“I think the spurts are becoming better at times and certainly longer at times,” he said, “and it's a matter of putting it all together.”
WORTH NOTING: Marcos Mondaini's 70th-minute goal carried Chivas to a 1-0 win in the teams' first meeting, June 4 at Home Depot Center. ... Portland traded winger Jeremy Hall to FC Dallas on Friday for midfielder Eric Alexander, who started 16 games for the Hoops. ... Nick LaBrocca will be suspended with his next yellow card. Portland's Rodney Wallace is in the same situation. ... The Timbers have surrendered two or more goals in 13 of 25 games. Chivas has given up one or none in 17 of 25.
MISSING: Rookie right back Zarek Valentin is out with a quad strain sustained early in Saturday's draw at Colorado. Forward Justin Braun, out last weekend with an abdominal strain, is ready to go.
Scotsman John Spencer, a compactly built pit bull of a forward for 15 years in Britain, Hong Kong and MLS, is in his first head-coaching job after serving as Dominic Kinnear's top assistant with the Houston Dynamo for 4½ seasons. The Rangers FC product toiled for Chelsea and Everton (and others) in England and Scotland, then wrapped up his playing career with four fine seasons (and two MLS Best XI awards) with the Colorado Rapids.
Three key players
Captain Jack Jewsbury, acquired during preseason from Sporting Kansas City, is the midfield linchpin for the Timbers -- and he leads the team with seven goals, eight assists. A fan favorite, he was voted onto MLS's All-Star First XI.
Rookie attacking midfielder Darlington Nagbe has “star” written all over him, but injuries slowed down the former University of Akron All-American at the beginning of the season. As he's found fitness and form, he's added dimensions to Portland's attack.
Veteran goalkeeper Troy Perkins, a former D.C. United star who spent a couple of years in Norway, provides a needed foundation at the back of an iffy defense. Without him, things are far worse.
The Timbers (8-12-5) have gone through, and continue to go through, the typical travails of expansion clubs, with some very fine moments overshadowed by collapses at the end of games. They've won their last two at home, over the Galaxy and last weekend against Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver, after a six-game winless streak at Jeld-Wen, but went 0-2-1 on the road between the victories. With 29 points, Portland is in the thick of the playoff chase, but they'll need a few unexpected victories to push into the top 10.
Winger Sal Zizzo played at UCLA and was with Chivas USA last season after returning home from Europe. ... Rookie forward Spencer Thompson starred at UC Irvine. … Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez is from Harbor City, began his pro career with Chivas USA in 2005-07 and played two seasons with Ventura County Fusion in the USL Pro Development League. ... Trevor James left Galaxy coach Bruce Arena's staff to join Spencer's.
The Timbers are ailing, with Thompson (undisclosed knee injury), defenders Mamadou “Futty” Danso (hamstring strain) and Kevin Goldthwaite (torn ACL), and forwards Eddie Johnson (concussion) and Brian Umony (sprained knee) out. ... Listed as probable: Jewsbury and Wallace (both hamstring strains), Perkins (sore hip), forward Bright Dike (quad strain) and defender David Horst (hip strain).
At Jeld-Wen Field (Portland, Ore.), 8 p.m.
TV: Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)
Referee: Edvin Jurisevic