By: Mario Melara
After only managing to secure one point in their last seven MLS games, tonight’s 2-0 victory over the Kansas City Wizards might just be what Chivas USA had been looking for to turn their unfortunate season around.
It was both impressive and inspiring to see how this young team was able to secure all three points on the road, not by necessarily following the game plan that Chivas USA head coach Martin Vasquez had initially orchestrated, but by the ability of this young red-and-white Chivas USA team to capitalize on Kansas City’s mistakes. On top of it all, one Justin Braun decided that enough was enough, and took matters into his own hands.
The match couldn’t have opened any worst for Chivas USA as Zach Thornton tweaked his ankle in the 5th minute on an aerial challenge against Kai Kamara. He refused to come out of the match and decided to tough it out as best as he could.
Chivas USA had the first real scoring opportunity of the match in the 7th minute, when a nice chip pass by Blair Gavin found Ben Zamanski near the back post, but his shot was thundered over the net. After that initial attack, it was all Kansas City. Davy Arnaud, Josh Wolff, and Kei Kamara all had great opportunities to open the scoring in the first half, but veteran Chivas USA goalkeeper Zach Thornton kept the game knotted at zero. No longer being able to keep with the pace of the game, and his ankle swelling, Zack Thornton was subsequently subbed out for Dan Kennedy in the 36th minute. Both teams headed into the locker rooms tied at zero.
Then the most unlikely of heroes emerged, Justin Braun.
The 23 year-old forward, hailing from Salt Lake City, showed the tenacity and grittiness that this team had been lacking for the last couple of weeks. He opened the scoring for Chivas USA in the 56th minute when an aerial ball played by Michael Lahoud, was misplayed by Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad, deflected off Chivas USA midfielder Osael Romero, and found its way to Braun’s feet. Calmly and coolly just inside the box, he lazered a shot past goal keeper Jimmy Nielsen in the upper-right corner of the net.
Forced to chase the game, Kansas City pressed on the attack, but lacking creativity or any real offensive ideas, they just could not break past the Chivas USA defense, which now was defending in numbers. Frustrated and running out of time, Kansas City began to commit reckless fouls, most notably by Jimmy Conrad on Justin Braun in the 81st minute, when a counter-attack play by the Chivas USA forward proved to be too much speed for the aging Conrad, so he was forced to crack Braun right in the ankles with a hard sliding tackle.
Not willing to come out the game, Justin Braun showed his grittiness and desire to win by staying in the match, and it paid off. He netted his second goal of the match in the 86th minute when an aerial ball was once again misplayed by Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad, found its way to Justin Braun, who calmly took one flick towards his left and then rocketed a shot in the upper left corner of the goal.
Three points for Chivas USA.
With the signing of Venezuelan international forward Giancarlo Maldonado, and the breakout game of Justin Braun, Chivas USA may have stumbled upon the newest offensive dynamic duo of the MLS. This of course would be a great sigh of relief for Chivas USA coach Martin Vasquez, who can then now focus his attention on the sputtering midfield play. Either way, it was a great win tonight for Chivas USA.
In a league where teams get hot and streaky on a flip of the switch (just go ask Real Salt Lake who last year who ended winning the MLS Cup), it may be too soon to think Chivas USA are title contenders, but they do have a great opportunity to move up in the Western Conference standings, begin to create stability at all positions, find a groove, and rack up some points.
Chivas USA will return to pitch on Thursday, July 15th, when they take on Puebla FC of the Mexican First Division in the annual SuperLiga Tournament.