CARSON, Calif. – The magic is over.
Seattle Sounders FC received a lesson in the realities of Major League Soccer during a 2-0 loss to Chivas USA on Saturday night in front of 15,463 at the Home Depot Center.
The host team combined an own goal by James Riley with Chukwundi Chijindu’s first professional goal to retain first place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.
With the loss, Sounders FC (3-2) falls four points behind Chivas USA (4-0-1), yet matches the best record for any MLS expansion team after five games. The now-defunct Miami Fusion also began its first season – in 1998 – with a 3-2 record.
For Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid, the game reflected several problems his team must address.
“We have to work on our shape,” Schmid said. “When we lose the ball, we have to go all the way back into our defensive third before we could attack again. We’ve got to do a better job of trying to recover the ball sooner.”
Schmid also thinks his team must better exploit the scoring opportunities it creates.
“We have to work on our finishing and our play in the final third (of the field),” Schmid said. “We were misconnecting a little bit all night.”
Sounders FC’s suddenly ineffective offense reflects the need for Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero to get accustomed to each other. Ljungberg played a full 90 minutes for the first time Saturday.
“Our cohesion ever since we put Montero and Ljungberg on the field together has suffered,” Schmid said. “Early in the season, we played with two holding midfielders and our wide guys attacked.
“Now, we’re more of a diamond in the middle of the midfield, and we haven’t sorted out all our roles and responsibilities.”
Yet the Sounders controlled play early and almost took the lead in the 10th minute.
Ljungberg beat Chivas USA’s Jesse Marsch and passed to an unmarked Montero, who drew goalkeeper Zach Thornton away from the net – and chipped a 25-yard shot two yards wide of the left post.
“If he strikes it,” Schmid said, “then we’re up 1-0 and that alters the way the game gets played out.”
Instead, the hosts secured the lead in the 32nd minute.
Chivas USA’s Jonathan Bornstein took a pass from Eduardo Lillingston, dribbled toward the left end line and crossed the ball from an extreme angle. Riley slid to deflect the ball while marking Lillingston tightly, but it went off his right foot and into the net.
“It was just one of those split-second decisions when I got behind (Lillingston),” Riley said. “I tried a side kick off the near post and it went off my foot. I take full responsibility.”
Chris Eylander, making his first MLS start for the suspended Kasey Keller, could not help Riley.
“I made the decision to stay back and not come out for that ball to put myself in position to get ready if the ball was cut across the goal line,” Eylander said. “When the ball’s on the (end) line like that, 12 to 14 yards out, it’s difficult to defend.”
Sounders FC had two chances to force a tie. In the 42nd minute, Sebastian LeToux headed Nate Jaqua’s right-wing cross from three yards, but Thornton blocked the shot with both hands while falling backwards, and Bornstein cleared it.
Then in the 56th minute, Brad Evans redirected Steve Zakuani’s left-wing cross from nine yards before Thornton made a dive in front of the left post to deflect the ball.
Chivas USA secured the victory in the 84th minute. Bojan Stepanovic crossed the ball from the left side between defenders Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Tyrone Marshall to Chijindu, whose 13-yard shot was inside the right post.
“It was a physical game,” Schmid said. “Chivas USA is a good passing team. They don’t make too many positional errors and they were pretty solid defensively.”
For Riley, the solution is simple.
“Obviously, you’re going to go through ups and downs,” he said. “It’s a long season. We have to stay (at an) even keel and get back to work. We’ll definitely work harder and try to make our own luck the next game.”