Chivas USA showed off the best and the worst it can be Saturday night, but it saved the good stuff for the end en route to a second win in as many road games.
English winger Ryan Smith fueled the comeback from an early deficit, whipping in pinpoint crosses from the left wing for Alejandro Moreno and Nick LaBrocca to finish, and the Goats (2-3-0) escaped the Western Conference cellar with a 2-1 triumph at Portland (1-3-1).
LaBrocca's header in the 82nd minute was the difference as Chivas, which has dropped three 1-0 decisions at home, followed its worst half of the year with its best.
“The attitude [at halftime] in the locker room was one of 'this game is here for us, this is an opportunity for us, can we get it, will we do the work required to get it' …,” said Moreno, who beat Eric Brunner to Smith's cross to tie the score just three minutes into the second half. “I think we showed ourselves that when we're aggressive and we have the right mindset and we can put a good effort on the field, we're going to give ourselves a chance to get the result.”
The Goats were on their heels all of the first half, unable to hold onto the ball but minimizing the damage through the usual backline heroics, although it was a defensive miscue that put them behind. Scottish striker Kris Boyd got Portland's goal in the 16th minute, finishing after goalkeeper Dan Kennedy collided with defender James Riley as he grabbed (and then dropped) a cross from Franck Songo'o on the right flank.
They were otherwise pretty good defensively -- fortunate, too, when Rauwshan McKenzie wasn't whistled for a penalty kick after shoving Brunner in the 25th minute, a gift returned when referee Chris Penso missed another PK, failing to call Portland defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste for a handball from a Moreno volley in the 58th.
Coach Robin Fraser switched from the 4-2-3-1 formation Chivas has been using to the old 4-4-2, with diamond midfield, that was the foundation for last year's group. The pluses -- “We get more bodies in the box, and that in iteself creates better chances for us to score,” Moreno said -- didn't add up until the second half, when Smith came on and immediately added a spark.
It paid off right away, with Smith taking a long ball from Heath Pearce, dribbling one way and the next past Lovel Palmer, then sending in the cross for Moreno to powerfully nod home. It was the first shot on goal for Chivas since Casey Townsend's goal to beat Real Salt Lake two weeks ago, a span of 155 minutes.
The Goats, who benefited from a superb showing by energetic midfielder Ben Zemanski, were in command the rest of the way, finding passage into the box and putting a few shots on target but not really threatening until another fine sequence -- Pearce to Zemanski to Smith to LaBrocca -- made it 2-1.
LaBrocca saw something different in all of it.
“I think we started showing a bit of confidence and found a rhythm that we've been trying to find since the beginning of preseason,” he said. “I think a lot of people got onto the same page and we connected well. Our quality was finally able to shine through.”
Said Fraser: “Even in the first half, our effort was good. We were working hard but the execution wasn't very good. We came out [after halftime] and executed immediately better, and as our execution got better, we were able to get more on the front foot and influence the game. … We spoke all week about being aggressive in the attacking end, and we talked a lot about positioning, about build-up play, but in the end it's that ultimate commitment to get into the box.”
UPDATE (11:15 p.m.): Chivas USA's victory over Portland left the Galaxy last in the West, 12 points behind first-place Real Salt Lake. L.A. is 17th overall, ahead of only Philadelphia (0-3-1) and Toronto FC (0-4-0).
WORTH NOTING: Moreno tore off the mask he has been wearing to protect a twice-broken nose about midway through the first half. “It gets very difficult to play with once it gets sweaty and is shifting around,” he said. “I figured it was time to take it off, to take a chance.” He said he'd continue to wear it in training but not in games. … Smith was kicked in the right ankle in stoppage (and was cautioned for it, another of Penso's ridiculous decisions), and Fraser quickly sent on Scott Gordon to keep the Goats at 11 players. Smith said the ankle was “really sore” and that he expected to have a scan. … Blair Gavin made his season debut but was pulled for Smith at halftime. … Cesar Romero got his first MLS start for Chivas, partnered up front with Moreno, but didn't offer a whole lot. … Oswaldo Minda's 26th-minute yellow card was his third caution in as many games. Two more and a one-game suspension awaits. … Portland has given up late winners at home two weeks in a row. Real Salt Lake scored twice in the final minutes for a 3-2 victory last weekend.
Jeld-Wen Field (Portland, Ore.)
Portland Timbers 1, Chivas USA 2
P -- Kris Boyd 16
C -- Alejandro Moreno (Ryan Smith) 48
C -- Nick LaBrocca (Ryan Smith) 82
Portland Timbers: Troy Perkins; Lovel Palmer, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Eric Brunner, Rodney Wallace (Mike Chabala, 46); Franck Songo'o (Kalif Alhassan, 62), Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Eric Alexander (Jorge Perlaza, 76); Kris Boyd, Darlington Nagbe. Unused subs: Freddie Braun, Bright Dike, Jake Gleeson, Steve Purdy.
Chivas USA: Dan Kennedy; James Riley, Rauwshan McKenzie, Heath Pearce, Ante Jazic; Ben Zemanski, Oswaldo Minda, Nick LaBrocca, Blair Gavin (Ryan Smith, 46; Scott Gordon, 93+); Cesar Romero (Laurent Courtois, 73), Alejandro Moreno. Unused subs: Miller Bolaños, Tim Melia, Casey Townsend, John Alexander Valencia.
Yellow cards: Minda 26, Smith 92+.
Referee: Chris Penso. Att.: 20,438.
Records: Portland Timbers 1-3-1, 4 points; Chivas USA 2-3-0, 6 points.