Chicago's Austin Berry, top left, head the ball away from Chivas USA's… (Victor Decolongon / Getty…)
Two weeks before the season started Chivas USA General Manager Jose Domene predicted his team would be back in the playoffs this fall. And nothing in Chivas' lackluster start has led him to change his mind.
"We're just a click away. We are built to be a playoff team," he said Friday before Chivas dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker to the Chicago Fire on Marco Pappa's goal three minutes into stoppage time.
To be fair, Chivas has played well in spurts during its 3-6 start. But it's also been awful for spurts as well, which has increasingly made Coach Robin Fraser a target of the disgruntled among Chivas' small fan base.
Domene said he has Fraser's back, though.
"Look, Robin is our coach now," he said of Fraser, in his 16th month on the job. "We have a plan and we have a project. And everything else is just speculation. The fact of the matter is, in this league what's worked is consistency."
Against the Fire, Fraser's team made some progress, even scoring a goal -- which may not sound like much but it was the first score for Chivas in five home games this season. Even then Chivas needed some help since the goal came on a penalty kick in the 23rd minute.
The sequence started with defender Heath Pearce curling a nice pass toward forward Alejandro Moreno, who was charging into the area. Austin Berry, making his Major League Soccer debut for Chicago in place of the suspended Jalil Anibaba, had his back to the ball and was beaten cleanly on the play so he jumped on Moreno's back, making it an easy call for referee Baldomero Toledo.
On the ensuing penalty kick, Fire keeper Sean Johnson guessed left and dove that way while Chivas' Juan Pablo Angel pushed the ball toward to the other corner, ending Chivas' season-long scoring streak at 264 minutes and giving the team its first lead in three weeks.
It was the team's fifth goal of the season; four MLS players have scored more than that on their own.
The advantage lasted less than two minutes before a massive defensive breakdown by Chivas left Berry unmarked in front of the goal, from where he flicked home a pass from Sebastian Grazzini to tie the score. It also made him the first Fire rookie to score in his first game since 1998.
And that's where the score stayed for the next hour, though both teams had their chances. The best for Chivas came nine minutes into the second half when Miller Bolanos escaped up the right wing, but Johnson managed to get his right hand on Bolanos' bullet from just inside the area, redirecting it away from the near post.
Chivas' keeper Dan Kennedy, meanwhile, faced 20 shots and turned many of those away in spectacular fashion. But it was all for naught when, deep in stoppage time, Pappa and Frederico Puppo shredded the Chivas defense, running a long give-and-go up the right side that ended with Pappa pulling up outside the box and burying a left-footed shot in the far corner.
It was the second time in five home matches that Chivas has given up a deciding goal in stoppage time.