Chivas USA hasn't been a bust on defense, with back-to-back shutouts despite an injury-shuffled backline, and one reason has been the play of goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
The former UC Santa Barbara star from Yorba Linda snared the starting job at the end of March, using a solid performance in the U.S. Open Cup qualifying loss in Portland to overtake longtime No. 1 Zach Thornton, MLS's Goalkeeper of the Year in 2009.
Kennedy (El Dorado HS), who has overcome major injuries that ended the past two seasons prematurely, takes a 234-minute shutout streak into Saturday afternoon's Major League Soccer clash at San Jose, where the Goats (0-2-3) will look for their first victory under Robin Fraser.
“Dan's been good. I feel like he's maturing,” Fraser said. “For a 28-year-old goalkeeper, he's still relatively young 'cause he's not logged a ton of minutes, and I think what we're seeing is Dan going through a learning curve where he's doing some things very well and some things he's continuing to improve at. It's certainly been positive for us.”
For Kennedy, too, especially after a knee injury wiped out his 2009 season and a torn biceps tendon halted last season in August. He came into a camp with three quality goalkeepers -- newcomer Sergio Arias, on loan from Guadalajara, is the No. 3 -- having played in just 16 league games in three seasons with Chivas after impressing in the second-tier USL First Division and with Chilean second-division side Municipal Iquique.
“Of course, it's rewarding to be back on the field,” said Kennedy, who has made several outstanding stops in successive draws with Toronto FC, Columbus and Vancouver, the last two of them scoreless. “It's what I expected. This is just kind of how I saw it working out, how I prepared for it to work out. Just trying now to maintain and help the team get some wins.”
He's had to direct a backline that's been plagued by injury, and he's worked with six different combinations in front of him in four matches, and none of those combinations included de facto captain Jimmy Conrad. Instead, he's worked with two first-time center backs (Heath Pearce and Ben Zemanski), a first-time right back (Michael Lahoud) and a rookie in the middle and, after Lahoud's concussion, at right back (Zarek Valentin). No problem.
“It shows you that we have some depth on the team. It's a positive,” Kennedy said. “And, hopefully, once everyone's fit, it gives Robin some headaches on player selection. That's what we want here. We want a good, deep, competitive team.”
Fraser praises Kennedy's shot-stopping skills, presence in the box and competitive drive, and there's no question of the goalkeeper's confidence. Despite his limited on-field time, Kennedy might be the most confident player on Chivas' roster.
“I think success, especially in a goalkeeper, makes that confidence grow even more and more,” Fraser said. “And I think he's extremely level-headed, and that's another good quality of his, too. I think he's got it all very much in perspective.”
WORTH NOTING: Conrad's first four MLS seasons (1999-2002) were spent in San Jose, with the Clash/Earthquakes, and Simon Elliott was a Quakes midfielder in in 2009. … Chris Wondolowski scored four goals against Chivas last season, three of them in San Jose's 3-0 romp on Oct. 20. … Chivas leads the series, 4-3-4, and is 2-2-1 at Buck Shaw Stadium. … Four of seven goals the Quakes have conceded have come in the first 30 minutes.
INJURY LIST: It's a long list, with midfielder Blair Gavin (hamstring strain), forward Tristan Bowen (sprained ankle) and defenders Seth Owusu (torn meniscus), Conrad and Lahoud (both concussions) out and midfielder Paulo Nagamura (calf strain) probably joining them after playing last week. Forward Justin Braun is slowed by a groin strain but available.
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
English-born Canadian defender Frank Yallop enjoyed a productive career in his native land, with 13 seasons at Ipswich Town, before wrapping up in MLS and going into coaching. He guided the Earthquakes to two MLS Cup titles, in 2001 and 2003, took on Canada's national team for a spell, was in charge of the Galaxy for a season and a half, and returned to San Jose with the rebirth of the Quakes.
Three key players
Wondolowski, who plays primarily up front, although at times you'll find him on the wing, emerged last year (in his sixth season) as one of MLS's best finishers, winning the Golden Boot with 18 goals.
Once one of American soccer's most promising young players, Bobby Convey has reinvented himself since returning from five rather unsatisfying seasons in England. The left-sided winger was the Quakes' most effective provider and won MLS's Comeback Player of the Year honor last season.
English midfielder Simon Dawkins, who arrived in March on loan from Tottenham, has quickly become the Quakes' most influential player, an effective attacker who can score and create for teammates.
The Earthquakes (1-2-2) have looked good, for the most part, but the results haven't matched their performances, and they are coming off a disastrous trek to New York, which beat them, 3-0, last weekend. They seem to have decided that Wondolowski's goalscoring is so important -- and it is -- that he needs to play up top, and Yallop is still looking for the right combinations in midfield. The Quakes should be in the playoff chase at the end of the year, and if things go right, no telling what they might pull off come November.
Forward Steven Lenhart (Yorba Linda) played at Esperanza High School in Anaheim and Azusa Pacific University. … Big defender Bobby Burling went to school at Loyola Marymount and spent two seasons with Chivas USA. … Defender Jason Hernandez played 53 games for Chivas in 2006-07. … Defender/midfielder Brandon McDonald made 10 starts as a rookie with the Galaxy in 2008. … Midfielder Rafael Baca (Lawndale), still unsigned but with the club, played at Animo Leadership High School in Inglewood and at Loyola Marymount. … Yallop was in charge of the Galaxy in 2006-07. Assistant coach Ian Russell played three games for L.A. in '07.
Midfielders Joey Gjertsen (groin strain) and Andre Luiz (knee surgery ) are out, defender Tim Ward (hamstring strain) is doubtful, forward Steven Lenhart (knee surgery) in questionable, and forward Ellis McLoughlin (back strain) is probable. Midfielder Omar Jasseh is away with Gambia's under-20 national team for the African Youth Championship.
At Buck Shaw Stadium (Santa Clara), 1 p.m.
TV: TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46)
Radio:W Radio (XEWW/690)
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Reserve League: Sunday, 11 a.m., Nutrilite Training Facility (San Jose)