One play doesn't make a team, or a season, or a player's reputation.
Yet by pulling a ball back and, perhaps inadvertently, setting up the only goal of CD Chivas USA's 1-0 win over FC Dallas Wednesday night at Pizza Hut Park, rookie Jonathan Bornstein in many ways encapsulated what he, and his team, is about in 2006.
The league's worst team last year with just four wins in 32 games knocked off the Western Conference leader, 1-0, to keep it tied for third and squarely in the playoff chase. Bornstein's slick play also cemented his likely selection as Rookie of the Year; he's scored six goals and missed just two minutes of league competition while playing several positions.
"He's adapted well to different positions, so for us, it's good," says forward Francisco Palencia of the 22-year old who started the season at left back and has also played in midfield and up top. "Every time we need a back or a forward, we can count on Jonny."
Juan Pablo Garcia started the sequence by dribbling forward, pushing a through ball, and racing into the penalty area to receive what he hoped would be a simple return pass.
The ball deflected off a defender and drifted towards yet another defender, seemingly to be cleared or collected by onrushing Dallas keeper Dario Sala. Instead, Bornstein, who was chasing the ball and had his back to Garcia, pulled the ball back and turned just in time to see Garcia swoop onto the scene and drill his shot low into the net.
It was Garcia's eighth goal, Bornstein's third assist, and a second road win of the season for Chivas USA (not counting an "away" defeat of the Galaxy at their shared Home Depot Center). The goal mirrored how Coach Bob Bradley has melded myriad elements on his roster and trimmed away those that didn't work. "He brought in so many good players, guys like Ante Razov and Jesse Marsch, true leaders who've been in the league a long time and know how to win and what it takes to succeed in MLS," said Bornstein, a fourth-round pick in last winter's SuperDraft who played his college ball for Division II Cal Poly Pomona and UCLA.
"He's done a really good job of bringing the team together and I don't think they had so much of that last year. It was more of an individual thing, the top Mexican players playing with some guys they didn't know, and it was hard for them to adjust."
Chivas USA lost Jesus Morales to a second caution with 14 minutes left but the Dallas defense couldn't break through keeper Brad Guzan, who turned away a Carlos Ruiz header in the 89th minute.
"The last season, we had a bad, bad year," said Palencia, who had to leave the game early in the second half with a hamstring injury. "But this year we have become one of the strongest teams in the MLS. We've won games and we've played good."
Chivas USA plays at Houston Saturday, and by beating Dallas kept alive the Dynamo's faint hopes of finishing first. It also wiped off a little more of the stain remaining from last year.
"After last year, especially, this team has to make the playoffs, simple as that," said Marsch prior to the Dallas game. "These two games [in Texas] are our season, really. If we can get two wins, or even a win or a tie, we'll put ourselves in a good spot."