Chivas USA heads into U.S. Open Cup qualifying after opening its Major League Soccer campaign with two losses so disappointing that head coach Robin Fraser is starting to rethink things.
He said after last weekend's loss to Colorado that the Goats needed to adopt a more aggressive mindset, and that this week's trip -- to Portland for Tuesday night's Open Cup play-in against the Timbers, and on to Toronto for Saturday's league clash -- would be most telling.
“This is where you really find out about a team's character, don't you?” Fraser said. “When things go really well, then life if rosy, everyone's in a good mood, everyone's happy. It's when you lose games you find out what you're made of. Do you come back and battle, or fo you point fingers, or do you accept responsibility.
“I think that we're at an important point for this team. Based on the last two performances, I think we should all be looking to see what their response is going to be like on Tuesday.”
Fraser called his team “too passive” in its 1-0 loss Saturday to Colorado, a game in which the Goats surrendered few opportunities but created no scoring chances to speak of. The Rapids took advantage of one defensive breakdown, and that was that.
“You know, 'passive' [is] an interesting word,” said backline leader Jimmy Conrad. “I can't argue with that. It did seem like we didn't have the urgency that we had [in the opener against Sporting Club Kansas City].”
Chivas has played decent soccer, and the results -- one-goal losses to after the second one-goal loss to clubs more highly regarded than are the Goats -- aren't awful.
Fraser admires his team's effort but wants more fight.
“It's something that we identified a couple weeks ago, just realizing that we really need to focus on competing,” Fraser said. “We've been focusing a lot on soccer and tactics and decisions and that sort of thing, [but] in this league you have to compete. You have to compete to win. You can go out and be the best soccer team in the world, but if you don't win your 50-50 challenges and you're not aggressive on either end of the field, you don't win.”
Fraser is considering tossing the 4-1-4-1 alignment that has provided solid defensive shape and enabled healthy possession, admitting after Saturday's defeat that he had been thinking about it during the game.
“I think we have to find a way to generate chances. If that's a complete abandonment of the formation, so be it …,” he said. “We're not married to any system. We'll take any system right now that will not give up goals and score goals.”
OPTIONS UP TOP: Fraser has decisions to make up front against Portland, and not just on systems. The 4-1-4-1 requires just one forward, and Ecuadoran rookie Victor Estupiñan got the call against Colorado, rarely saw the ball. A conventional 4-4-2 would bring on a second forward. Justin Braun, who has started both games on the flank, and Tristan Bowen, who played primarily on the flank in preseason, are options.
Estupiñan, who youthfully promised he'd score 30 goals this year, “looked like a young player in a new environment” against Colorado, Fraser said. “Probably lost too many of his physical challenges. … To get open in this league, it requires a lot of physical work. …
“I think he had a couple of good touches in midfield, for sure, and he shows that he can play, but at the same time I think it was an eye-opening experience for him that in this league he's not just going to show up and score goals.”
WORTH NOTING: Tuesday's winner will play next month at San Jose in a second-round qualifier, and the victor will be home against the winner of Wednesday's Chicago-Colorado qualifier in Peoria, Ill. The winner of that one enters the Open Cup in the third round. … Forward Alejandro Moreno scored in Venezuela's 2-0 win Saturday over Jamaica, defender Andy Bowens netted an own goal in New Zealand's 1-1 draw with China, and defender Michael Umaña played 90 in Costa Rica's 2-2 tie with a different China side. … Sacha van der Most Spijk, a Dutch former pro and veteran coach in Chivas USA's academy, has been appointed director of youth development.