There were positives to be found in Chivas USA's dress rehearsal Saturday night, but not the kind that show up on the scoreboard. The Goats lost, again, this time to a college team, and head into the final two weeks of preparations for their Major League Soccer opener needing, one veteran said, “a little more urgency.”
Chivas had the better of play most of the way in a 2-1 loss to UCLA at Home Depot Center's track and field stadium, but putting away chances continues to be a struggle and defense on set plays has to be a concern.
The result itself doesn't matter, not really, except that the Goats were looking to duplicate a regular-season match -- from pregame to final whistle, including a close-to-first-choice lineup and just three substitutions -- and will be hoping the real thing, starting March 19 against Sporting Kansas City at HDC, doesn't end in defeat.
Another goal, just their second in the past six preseason matches, and by Alan Gordon -- playing up top again -- who has netted three of the five Chivas has scored in eight games. Unfortunately, Gordon was overwhelmed by the defensive pressure UCLA applied, and head coach Robin Fraser did not appear pleased.
The return of Justin Braun, last season's top scorer, who has been slowed or sidelined the entire preseason by an ankle injury. He came on in the 64th minute for Gordon and added a spark to the attack.
The Goats fared well against UCLA's defense-stretching speed, especially center backs Jimmy Conrad and Michael Umaña, who answered a few questions about their ability to contend with fast foes.
It's a work in progress, the concepts and culture Fraser is implementing, and it's coming in starts and stops.
“We have two or three guys thinking the same thing [on the field], and maybe certain plays we've got four or five guys thinking the same thing,” said Conrad, the only UCLA alum in the Chivas lineup. “We need to get to a point where we've got everybody thinking the same thing, reading the same thing, picking up on the same cues -- the ball's here, here's how we're going to move; the ball turns over, this is how we're going to support each other.
“That can be a little bit cleaner. I think we do that at times. I think we show that when we do it right, it looks really good, and it flows, and it looks nice. It's aesthetically pleasing, if you will. But there's going to be some times we have to grit it out, and we have to just win balls in good areas and try to turn it the other way. There's a lot of different ways to win games, and I think we're trying to just do it one way, and I think that's what's limiting us right now.”
THE GAME: Gordon gave the Goats a 23rd-minute lead, turning a defender after taking a pass from Francisco Mendoza, and Conrad nearly made it 2-0 off a 35th-minute corner kick, but the ball was cleared off the line. UCLA pulled even, through Chandler Hoffman, on a corner kick three minutes later, and Andy Rose converted a 76th-minute penalty kick after a Umaña hand ball.
UCLA annually has one of the most talented college teams in the nation, and the Bruins will be among the NCAA title favorites next fall, but defeat -- especially after losing earlier in the week to Canada's under-23 national team -- is a tad embarrassing.
It was the first loss by an MLS club to college opposition in 13 encounters this preseason, with No. 14 -- Chicago vs. UNC Greensboro -- slated for Sunday. MLS teams are 11-1-1 (Chicago tied Florida Gulf Coast in its preseason opener) and have outscored the collegians, 38-7.
CONRAD'S TAKE: “I think we have a special group of players here. We're moving in the right direction, a lot of good things. The only thing we're concerned about is making sure we make something of this first part of the season. We don't want to be five, 10 games in and think, 'Where did it all go? What are we doing?' ”
UP NEXT: Chivas has one remaining prep scheduled, next Saturday at FC Dallas. UCLA takes on the Galaxy on Wednesday.
CHIVAS' LINEUP: Zach Thornton; Zarek Valentin, Jimmy Conrad, Michael Umaña, Heath Pearce; Simon Elliott (Gerson Mayen, 67), Mariano Trujillo, Francisco Mendoza, Marcos Mondaini; Alejandro Moreno, Alan Gordon (Justin Braun, 64).
CHIVAS USA 2011 PRESEASON (3-4-1)
Feb. 1 vs. Fresno Fuego (PDL) at Templeton, Calif.: W 2-0 (goals by Gordon, Estupiñan)
Feb. 7 vs. San Jose Earthquakes at HDC: W 1-0 (Gordon)
Feb. 12 vs. Seattle Sounders at Casa Grande, Ariz.: L 0-1
Feb. 15 vs. Real Salt Lake at Casa Grande, Ariz.: L 0-2
Feb. 18 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps at Casa Grande, Ariz.: W 1-0 (Padilla)
Feb. 25 vs. D.C. United at HDC: T 0-0
March 1 vs. Canada U-23 at HDC: L 0-2
March 5 vs. UCLA at HDC: L 1-2 (Gordon)
March 12: vs. FC Dallas at Frisco, Texas