BY ADAM SERRANO
"This was a win to remember."
The words of midfielder Paulo Nagamura after Chivas USA's impressive 3-1 victory over the Eastern Conference leading Columbus Crew. Goals by Justin Braun, Blair Gavin and Carlos Borja — all of whom are 23-years-old or younger — were the difference as the Rojiblancos dominated, shutting out Columbus until a Steven Lehart goal in the 88th. After a frustrating start of the season, Chivas USA are now undefeated in their last four MLS games, but it was a victory against the top team in the East that may be the sweetest.
"This was our biggest win this year because from the first minute to the 90th, we played well," said head coach Martin Vasquez. "We got effort tonight from our younger guys who keep stepping up and our veterans who have done well to assist them"
Feisty throughout, Chivas USA placed a great deal of pressure on the Crew particularly in the midfield where the paring of the rookie Ben Zemanski and veteran Paulo Nagamura was instrumental in obstructing Crew's attack and freeing the attackers to make dangerous runs at the Crew defense. It was this superior work rate that gave the Rojiblancos the lead and put them up for good. Chivas struck first in the 37th when a cross from Rodolfo Espionza was headed in by Braun who outl-jumped a pair of defenders to head the ball into the net.
Chivas scored again moments before halftime when Gavin was able to capitalize off a defensive miscue by Crew defender Shaun Francis and score the third goal of his rookie season. The Rojiblancos added a third when Borja scored his first career goal in the 53rd. Perhaps, the most important stat is that five players from the Chivas USA starting lineup were 25 or younger. It is this commitment to youth that is seminal to Vasquez's plan to revive the struggling club. Combine this youth with a few recently acquired veterans and the Rojiblancos are finally gelling.
"We're maturing right now and having the players around us like the veterans getting more trust and belief in us," said Gavin. " Martin has spoken to us a lot and we're really coming together as a team."
One player who has begun to blossom is Braun. The goal was Braun's seventh — and his third in 3 MLS matches — which places him fifth in the league scoring list and may put him into the conversation for a national team call-up.
While the match was one to remember for Chivas, for the Crew, it was truly one to forget. It started disastrously in the 17th minute when the club lost midfielder Eddie Gaven to a terrifying injury when the midfielder's head collided with the knee of Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy. The midfielder was immediately removed and sent to the Hospital after the match for evaluation. Gaven's injury immediately forced Crew manager Robert Warzycha to make changes in a match which had not yet been decided.
As the match wore on, Columbus was clearly outclassed on both sides of the field by the youthful Chivas midfield. Throughout the night, the Eastern Conference leaders were unable to generate significant drives moving forward as a cohesive Chivas USA defense closed down passing lanes for Crew captain Guillermo Barros Schelotto. It was not until a moment of pause for the Chivas backline that the Crew were able to pull one back after a cross into Steven Lehart caught the Rojiblancos napping. With the defeat, Columbus' road record falls to 2-5-1 and the Crew have not registered a win over Chivas on the road since 2005.
"We didn't have the best game tonight and nothing seemed to go our way," said Warzycha. "Chivas USA played as a team tonight, there were organized and it was difficult for us to string some passes together and find a rhythm."
The Rojiblancos will now travel to BMO Field to face a Toronto FC team that has not been defeated at home this season. Chivas may have caught Toronto at the perfect time, fresh off a midweek trip to Honduras in Champions League Play. With a run of form as of late, Gavin is confident that this could be the start of something great.
"We're seem to pulling things together and we're here to compete."