Whether Chivas USA makes it into Major League Soccer's playoffs -- and the smart money says no -- it's 3-0 win Saturday night at Home Depot Center over Toronto FC says plenty about how far the club has come this season.
It was a statement victory, filled with the things that have gone right for the Goats in 2011 -- fine possession and interchange, good energy to win the duels, strong work on the flanks, Dan Kennedy's expertise in the nets -- and so much less of what hasn't.
Juan Pablo Angel made it back-to-back games with two goals, pushing his total to six in six games since last month's move from the Galaxy -- and nine for the season, just four off Dwayne De Rosario's league-best total -- and Chivas halted a seven-game winless skid that took them from prime contenders to the verge of elimination.
And elimination could come as soon as Sunday. If Chivas loses against the Union, it's done if these things happen first:
Columbus wins Wednesday at Sporting Kansas City or Sunday afternoon against D.C. United
Sporting wins Wednesday vs. Columbus or Saturday at San Jose
New York gets a road win Saturday over Toronto
A quick look at Chivas' victory:
BEST PLAYER: This is the Angel we expected to see with the Galaxy, and now that he's in form and has restored his confidence, he's nearly unstoppable. The goals were great, but he tormented TFC's defense all game, continually getting into good places, and he would not have been undeserving of a hat trick.
“I think Juan is a class act as a person and as a player, and I think he came here and took on this as a challenge,” head coach Robin Fraser said in his postgame news conference. “This is a team that, obviously, we needed some help, and I think that’s the impressive thing when you look at him. Big-time players rise to big-time challenges. He’s come here and immediately become a leader in the team, not only in the locker room but what he’s doing on the field. ...
“This has been a good fit for him because we are a team that genuinely appreciates and needs all of his qualities ... and I think Juan has really adapted to us and feels like one of us.”
BEST GOAL: Great stuff on all of them -- Justin Braun's pass and Ante Jazic's cross on the first, Michael Umaña's work tracking down the ball getting in the cross and Braun's step-faster header on the second -- but the third was pretty.
Chivas unlocked TFC's defense in its own end, with Ben Zemanski taking a short pass from Marcos Mondaini and sprinting toward the Reds goal. He laid it off to the left to Angel, who cut in above the box -- nutmegging defender Andy Iro -- and fired terrifically toward the far post.
BIGGEST STRUGGLE: On this night, the only struggle is reality. Chivas can get to 44 points with a sweep at HDC of Philadelphia, the Galaxy and Seattle -- a difficult trio. Estimates on what it will take to get into the top 10 have been narrowed down, most places, to 43 to 45. So perfection could go either way, and anything less ends the dream.
The Goats are 13th overall, with 35 points, and they have fewer games remaining than every team they could catch -- and fewer than 14th-place Chicago, which is just two points back. If some team outside the top 10 is going to creep in, the likeliest candidate is D.C. United, especially after the romp over Real Salt Lake.
Until the math doesn't work, the Goats must believe. That's the foundation of a potential miracle.
“Absolutely,” Jazic said. “We're mathematically still alive, all of our games are at home, so there's no reason why we can't win every game. If we keep playing like we did tonight, with the same focus, I think we will be fine.”
WORTH NOTING: Heath Pearce, who returned from a hamstring tear Wednesday at D.C. United, sat this one out. Andy Boyens took his spot, making his first start since May 28 and his first appearance since June 25. ... He'd played in just one of the previous 19 games. ... Umaña again got the call at left back. Michael Lahoud came on in the second half, in midfield, and rookie Zarek Valentin was stuck on the bench. ... Midfielder Simon Elliott also sat out his second straight game after starting 12 of the previous 13. ... Kennedy notched his ninth shutout, making two fine saves: on a long-range Ryan Johnson shot midway through the first half and a leg stop on Danny Koevermans' 16-yard bullet in the 54th minute. ... Chivas is only 5-6-4 at HDC.
FINAL JUDGMENT: “It’s definitely what we needed,” Fraser said. “If you look at our last several games, I think the D.C. game aside, we put ourselves in position to get points, and through mistakes and broken plays we’ve definitely let a few things slip away. To win would’ve been great, but to win convincingly is good for our confidence.
“Looking into our next couple of games, I think this is huge for us.”
NEXT: Sunday, Oct. 2, vs. Philadelphia at Home Depot Center, 5 p.m. (Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22)
Home Depot Center
Chivas USA 3, Toronto FC
C -- Juan Pablo Angel (Ante Jazic, Justin Braun) 12
C -- Justin Braun (Michael Umaña) 71
C -- Juan Pablo Angel (Ben Zemanski, Marcos Mondaini) 77
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; Michael Umaña, Andy Boyens, David Junior Lopes, Ante Jazic; Justin Braun (Michael Lahoud, 78), Ben Zemanski, Nick LaBrocca, Laurent Courtois (Marcos Mondaini, 64); Alejandro Moreno, Juan Pablo Angel. Unused subs: Simon Elliott, Jorge Flores, Blair Gavin, Zach Thornton, Zarek Valentin.
Toronto FC: Stefan Frei; Richard Eckersley, Ty Harden, Andy Iro, Ashtone Morgan; Julian De Guzman (Terry Dunfield, 46), Torsten Frings, Eric Avila; Nick Soolsma, Danny Koevermans (Danleigh Borman, 84), Ryan Johnson (Peri Marosevic, 73).
Yellow cards: Morgan 8, Eckersley 27, Iro 43, Zemanski 54.
Referee: Kevin Stott. Att.: 14,357.