Chivas USA defender Danny Califf has seen too many games this season like the 4-0 loss to San Jose Sunday night.
Even so, a team that hadn't conceded any goals directly from free kicks this season found a new wrinkle to go along with its recurring problem of converting opportunities. The Quakes scored three of their goals on free kicks -- two by left back Ramiro Corrales -- to win going away at Buck Shaw Stadium, where they are unbeaten (9-0-3) this season.
Chivas USA squandered three first-half opportunities and trailed at halftime, 2-0, despite outshooting the host, 9-5. A more open approach has produced chances and goals in the past few games but has been costly at the other end, and Sunday the Quakes took full advantage to set a team record for goals in a season (56) with seven more games to play.
"Certainly in the first half we had some really good looks and that's the name of the game: if you put your chances away you stay in games, and we didn't do it," said Califf. "They had thee chances and two goals in the first half and then in the second half it got a lot more wide-open and as we were pushing they got a lot more chances. It's disappointing because at halftime I felt like we were in it."
Teenager Juan Agudelo failed to convert two breakaways and rookie Casey Townsend missed with an open header provided by a Tristan Bowen cross. Meanwhile defender Victor Bernardez drilled home a free kick to open the scoring in the 11th minute with the Quakes' first shot, and Simon Dawkins added a second goal shortly before halftime.
Earlier in the season, Chivas USA played a lot of tight, close games and was shut out in five of its first eight. That approach has been altered; coming into the San Jose game, Chivas USA had scored six goals, but conceded 10 -- including six in a 6-2 loss at home to Seattle -- and thus had garnered just two points in a 1-1 tie with Colorado and 3-3 deadlock against New England.
"Against Seattle, we created a ton of opportunities and we didn't take as many as we needed to," said head coach Robin Fraser, whose team hasn't won in a month, since beating Portland, 1-0, July 28. "Then against New England we had a good stretch where we created a lot of opportunities.
"Our young players are talented and athletic and you're seeing that. When things go well, it's quite good, but perhaps with young players sometimes you get some inconsistencies. For the most part I think they've done a pretty good job the in last number of games. They've created things and obviously we need to finish more."
Fraser negated the thought that he's already planning for next year by fielding a young lineup. News this week that Jorge Vergara has bought out his former partners Ricardo and Lorenzo Cue has clouded the team's future but not according to what Fraser is trying to accomplish. With a record of 7-11-7 (28 points), Chivas USA is in seventh place, nine points behind fifth-place Vancouver in the last playoff spot.
"Absolutely not thinking ahead to next year," said Fraser. "We're looking at getting some players healthy and trying some different looks and trying to create more attack. We've certainly created more attack -- 60 shots in the last three games -- and you don't score those opportunities and make mistakes in the back it doesn't matter how creative you're being and how many opportunities you're creating because at the end of the day you're still trying to score more goals than the other team."
The days of posting four shutouts in a run of five games -- June 23 to July 28 -- seem long gone, even though two of those were 1-0 defeats of the Timbers.
"You get beat down too many times and confidence erodes," said Califf. "I think it's all about converting chances. In the first half of the season, it was all about defending and [that's] all we did: we defended, we defended, we defended. We didn't really create any chances and now, because of that, we're playing a lot more wide open, we're throwing a lot more numbers into attack. It kind of turned on its head and now we're getting exposed in the back. When we don't convert chances, when we throw a lot of numbers forward, you're going to get a lot of games with scores like this, where it goes from bad to worse in a hurry."