[MLS] With new teammates Jesus Padilla and Maicon Santos playing their first games for Chivas USA, midfielder Sacha Kljestan took advantage to play his best game of the season and continue a revival for the club that started off strong before a six week winless slump.
Stationed at left midfield, Kljestan scored both goals as Chivas USA beat Toronto FC, 2-0, Saturday at Home Depot Center. Chivas USA trails the second-place Galaxy by only two points, and plays its HDC rival Saturday following a midweek trip to Utah for a match with Real Salt Lake in a matchup of the 2005 expansion teams that won a combined total of nine games.
This year, both teams are locked in a fight for playoff positions. Only the top two teams in each conference qualify automatically, the others will duel with Eastern teams for the remaining four spots based on overall points. RSL (7-9-6, 27 points) desperately needs a win to close the gap on Chivas USA (10-7-3, 33 points), which is tied with Seattle for third place in the Western Conference.
Prior to beating the Red Bulls, 2-0, a week earlier, Chivas USA hadn't won in league play since early June, but with Padilla on the right side of midfield and Santos paired up top with Maykel Galindo, Kljestan scored his first two goals of 2009 and also created a few chances for his new teammates.
"I felt confident," said Kljestan, who hadn't scored a goal in 14 months, to mlsnet.com. "I felt like the game was moving at my speed; I was dictating the game when I had the ball. Two wins in a row is good for us so we hope to build on this.
Of his struggles this season, he said, "It's just one of those things. It happens in soccer sometimes. You get discouraged and then it's even harder to come back. But I've been talking with the coaches and working hard to get my confidence back, and it's been good. The last three weeks of training have been good for me."
With bye weekends before and after the All-Star Game, Coach Preki worked on his team's problems creating offense; it had scored one goal in its last four league games. A 4-0 shellacking in Colorado Aug. 8 didn't offer much evidence of progress, and a victory at Giants Stadium the following week might have expedited the departure of Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio without offering any long-term indicators about Chivas USA.
Yet players reacted strongly to breaking a five-match losing streak, and carried that momentum into the match with TFC, which seldom established any feel for the game and conceded a second goal six minutes into the second half following Kljestan's opener in the 32nd minute.
"We have a couple of new guys and it's not always easy to gel right away with your teammates," said Preki. "But I thought both of those guys, the longer the game went, they settled in and played better."
Another new player, Colombia under-20 defender Yamith Cuesta, has been signed on loan and will be eligible once his paperwork is complete.
The reinforcements are needed not solely because of the team's injury list, though it is still lengthy. For the Toronto game, the team list ran thusly: out -- Justin Braun (concussion); Jim Curtin (ankle sprain); Dan Kennedy (knee surgery); Ante Razov (ankle tendonitis); Claudio Suarez (calf strain); Lawson Vaughn (ankle surgery); Sasha Victorine (concussion); Cesar Zamora (hamstring strain); questionable: Kevin Harmse (knee tendonitis); probable: Paulo Nagamura (hamstring strain); Zach Thornton (R quad strain).
Of the maybes, only Nagamura got any action, and he played just the last 13 minutes. Lance Parker manned the nets instead of Thornton and posted his second straight shutout.
At 10-7-3 with 10 games to play, Chivas USA trails only Houston (11) in victories, and the Dynamo has played four more games.
After it plays RSL and the Galaxy this week, Chivas USA hosts New England - another team that has played only 20 games - before heading to Seattle for a crucial Sept. 19 showdown.
"This is a period of adjustment for us with a few new faces," said Preki. "Hopefully we can survive this period and towards the end of the year we'll be the team that we want to be."