CARSON, Calif. – An hour into the FC Dallas game, Chivas USA was a disaster. Down a goal and severely outplayed, the Goats faced a second straight home loss to kick off the season. It was 2005 out there.
Then a strange thing happened. Dallas, which should have held a multi-goal lead at that point, capitulated, coughing up three goals to lose the game 3-1.
"The fight," Jose Luis 'Chelis' Sanchez Sola said, when asked for any scant positives from his players following the 3-0 opening loss to the Columbus Crew. "The fight."
It sounded preposterous – Brendan Rodgers-levels of optimistic disconnect. MLS has seen very few more listless displays. But two comebacks later may help shade history so that Chelis doesn't sound quite so outlandish.
On Sunday, Chivas USA rebounded from a goal and a man down to equalize in the 89th minute against the two-time reigning MLS Cup champions, the LA Galaxy.
Three matches into Chelis' MLS career and Chivas USA looks a tough nut to crack.
"Give them credit," Bruce Arena said. "They played real hard, they got in on every play."
Chelis switched formation to aggravate the Galaxy. From a diamond defense against Dallas, with Bobby Burling following Kenny Cooper, the Goats lined up in a sturdy 3-4-3. The wide midfielders tracked LA's wingers' runs and the back three contained the Galaxy's two forwards. Lacking in imagination, the team compensated in organization and grit. They committed 22 fouls.
"They fouled us as much as they could and got away with as much as they could," Arena said. "But that's all part of the game. That's not surprising."
"I'm not here to entertain," Chelis said.
Los Angeles, "heavy-legged or sloppy, whatever you want to call it," as Robbie Keane put it, from a midweek CONCACAF Champions League game against Herediano, couldn't break Chivas USA down. Even the flabbergasting first-half ejection of Joaquin Velazquez didn't help until seven minutes from full time.
"It was going to take an ugly goal, in all honesty," Arena said.
It sure wasn't pretty. Jack McBean, leaning backward, looped a header that Dan Kennedy flailed at and tipped on its way into the net. It was one of three shots on target by LA.
Game over? Not so much.
In the 89th minute, MLS debutant Carlos Alvarez tapped home a Carlos Borja cross to equalize for the team that had played down a man for 50 minutes. It was Chivas USA's only shot on target, and only its second attempt.
"They're football players. They're not plumbers; they're not electricians," Chelis said. "As confidence grows, as they believe in themselves more and more, you're going to see better players, you're going to see better games."
Chivas USA is entertaining in different ways, ways that have no relation to offensive flair. The coach is the most quotable in the league and prefers to make all three substitutions as early as possible (by halftime, in this case). The formations are engagingly bizarre.
The lack of quality in the squad will likely undermine this club come the reckoning of postseason. But Chelis USA won't roll over before everything has been decided.
"We won more than just one point tonight, I think we won a little bit of respect," Dan Kennedy said.
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