Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
Robin Fraser brought a lot of changes to Chivas USA and how it goes about its business on the field, and expectation has it that success should follow. We'll soon see.
The Goats might not have made the playoffs in 2011 -- a seven-game winless streak in August and September was too great to overcome -- but the work Fraser and his staff completed in altering the culture and building a foundation to win was among the most impressive this year in Major League Soccer.
Fraser, a former U.S. national-teamer and two-time MLS Defender of the Year, received his first professional head-coaching assignment last January and, without the benefit of a full offseason to build, immediately began to improve a threadbare roster.
It was a long-term project, ongoing, that saw him bring in more than a dozen players on trial, wheel and deal within the league (Nick LaBrocca, Heath Pearce and Juan Pablo Angel were the real prizes), and lure several players from abroad (Marcos Mondaini, Laurent Courtois and David Junior Lopes making impacts) while implementing a possession game that surely had its charms.
At their best, the Goats were phenomenal, one of the best teams at keeping and moving the ball in MLS. But consistency wasn't a virtue, the team managed back-to-back wins just once -- back in April -- and the 8-14-12 mark might have been an improvement on 2010, but the win total was the same.
“At times from game to game and even within games, I thought we played extremely well and were extremely engaged,” Fraser said when the campaign was over. “Then at other times, it was a lack of concentration and critical mistakes.”
The triumphs were in the details: LaBrocca's star turn atop the midfield diamond, Pearce's seamless transition to central defense, Dan Kennedy's phenomenal performance in the nets, Angel's finishing after he arrived from the Galaxy in August.
Chivas weathered major injuries all season yet was within a game of .500 into late August. A dozen of its losses were by just one goal, and more precise finishing would assuredly have turned some into draws or victories. Alter a few results here and there, and the Goats play into the postseason.
No matter, an infrastructure has been built, at least on the field, and the Goats are anxious to stride forward. They know it will take more hard work to do so.
“I think we put into place a mentality and an approach that we want,” Fraser said. “I think when it was good this year, it was pretty good. It was an interesting thing how people kept asking, 'Well, how are you going to score goals? Who's going to score your goals?' And up until about 10 weeks into the season, we were sixth in the league in goals scored.
“The point is if the team functions well as a team, you score goals, you find your goals, and also, hopefully, you don't give up a ton of goals. Inconsistency is one of the big things that sticks with us this year, because at times we were good and at times we weren't good enough.”