Chivas USA are nothing if not predictable. They stayed compact, got physical in the midfield, and looked to hit United on the break. And for 75+ minutes, it was working, as it has for the majority of this young season in Major League Soccer. United's chances were few and of poor quality. Chivas looked just as likely to grab something on the break as they did to concede, and things were finely poised between 2-1 and 3-0, though I'll admit to feeling it was going to end 2-0. I know I've been somewhat doubtful of United's playoff credentials, but coming back from 2-0 down, with 15 minutes to play, on the road, against the best defense in the league? That's the performance of a playoff-bound side, neh?
* A question of tactics. Yes, I know I nailed the lineup in my preview, but I still do wonder if maybe we would have been better served with four at the back. The HDC has a pretty big playing surface, and there were times when we looked awfully stretched at the back. It's hard to argue with the result, but maybe if we just stay solid with four backs, we don't have to come back from 2-0 down, because Chivas, without Kljestan, had little to offer creatively in attack. I would have had no problems going to three at the back when Chivas grabbed the lead and began dropping off, but from a starting standpoint, it may not have been the best selection.
* A question of preparation. Similar questions will have to be asked of Soehn about starting Olsen. Maybe if Jacobson was fully fit, he would have started regardless, but you just hope Benny didn't set himself back a couple of weeks by trying to go for this match. Another note of censure might go to Pontius for picking the wrong studs. He looked like he was skating out there at times, slipping at least 3-4 times in key positions, both in the attack and on defense. Despite those troubles, I was mildly upset to see him coming off at the half. He was the only one winning direct, attacking balls in the air for us, and his range, from attack to defense all along the right flank, was impressive.
* That's what we pay him for. As I was watching the match, I was already composing a diatribe against Emilio for missing on the clear opportunity presented to him when he knocked down a long-range blast and was one-on-one in the box. But then, minutes later, presented with a more difficult chance, he managed a remarkable finish. So, does a 50% strike rate in clear chances merit DP dollars? Absolutely. I think you expect to create, at the very least, 2-3 chances for your dangerman in any given match. True, not all of those will be clear-cut, but that's why you need an opportunistic poacher that will make at least one of those count.
* Four points to the whistlemen? Now, I've seen a couple of replays of Quaranta's late drive, and it looks to me that Gomez doesn't touch it. Nor did I see any angles that might have shown if Gomez was beyond the last man. But it seems to me that his poke at the ball might have been construed as "interfering with play," causing Thornton to have to honor what might be a redirection. I still don't think Thornton gets to that hit in any case, but it is a legitimate bone of contention. Of course, United will feel the more aggrieved by that particular linesman, given his absolute blowing of the offsides call on Chivas' opener. It's hard to predict how the match might have gone if he raises his flag there, but I think United will feel that between that blown call and Rodney Wallace's "hand growing out of his thigh" PK against the Galaxy, the whistlemen have robbed them of four points in the HDC this year.
* Man o' the match. It's got to be Tino, right? An assist on the first goal and the rasping drive (carrying on the cliche parade from the preview ;-) for the equalizer highlighted an energetic performance from the proud new papa. The fact that he got both from the right wing position might leave me with some egg on my face, as I've always been quite vocal in preferring him floating between attacking midfield and withdrawn forward. That preference is mainly due to a lot of wasteful crosses and some defensive limitations in covering a three-man back line. With a fullback to cover him, I think the benefits outweigh the negatives, and I wouldn't have any trouble playing him wide on the right. Also, I'm coming around to the opinion that if he hits one great ball like the one he did on Emilio's goal for every three he wastes, that's probably a net positive.
* Sullivan on his knees for Gomez. Whatever the case with Tino's play, I think he's still doing more than enough to keep Gomez on the bench, but you'd never know it with FSC's Christopher Sullivan falling all over himself to take each and every opportunity to remind us that Gomez is "one of the best in the league" and needs to be on the field for "90 minutes every game." Jeebus! Sullivan's grasp of the game has steadily grown on me over the years, but he eroded much of that growth in this match's commentary. Gomez has clearly not been the player he once was for United, and to claim that his introduction sparked the rally was a stretch. Did he have any definitive touches besides a couple of poor tackles? Not that I could see. I still think he's a good player to have in the stable, but at ~$400k?
* Speaking of overpaying for talent. Let's talk a moment about United's single greatest weakness at this point. It's in net. You know it and I know it. Yes, Crayton had a fantastic reaction save off a headed chance in the second half, and didn't too too much wrong in this match, but his flapping at a cross led directly to the second Chivas goal. He's a good keeper, there's little doubt about that, but is he worth $170k? That's ~$150k more than we're paying the kid Kocic. Does Crayton seem $150 better than Kocic? And that's with Crayton being a fixed, known quantity. He's not going to get much better, whereas Kocic still has years in which to grow. Maybe it's time we gave him an extended run to see if we really need to re-sign Crayton to a longer deal this summer.
* Chance of a change? Probably the only thing that keeps us from pulling that particular trigger is that we seem so deep elsewhere. Where else do we really need to add pieces that would justify letting Crayton go to free up cap space? The only potential weaknesses I can see are left back (neither Burch nor John fill me with great confidence, though both are adequate), right mid (though we have coverage in Pontius, Quaranta, Khumalo, and Fred, all are more attacking players than two-way types), and depth in central midfield (I wouldn't mind a fiery, hard-nosed tackler as an option; can we trade in Peters and get Vide back?).
So that's the way I saw it. Chivas did what they do best, and for a long while, it seemed like they were pretty much ideally suited to exploit what United brings to the table. You can color me just a tad shocked that we managed another comeback in this one and that we managed to stand up to Chivas' physical play. I expected that we might get a draw from this match going in, and I thought we did enough to merit that draw, but Chivas have been beating those odds all year.
So do I think that United is among the league's elite teams yet? No. True, we're better than most expected. In fact, we're pretty good. Playoff good. But the summer is coming, and with it comes the likelihood of testing injuries, exhaustion for our old-timers, and the inevitable rookie wall for the likes of Pontius, Wallace, and even Jakovic. We've got depth, and it has been tested. Soehn is managing the minutes pretty well. So far, so good, but the season is long. I didn't think I'd be saying this at around the 77 minute mark, but...