Chivas USA: Harbinger Of Doom?

You think I'm crazy? Then why did Chivas USA let Justin Meram score an 89th minute goal, hurting D.C. United's playoff chances in the process? They are our black swan! Or black goat. Whatever.

So, are you feeling good? Did you enjoy watching D.C. United win on the road for the first time since the Eisenhower administration June last night against the Philadelphia Union? Pleasantly surprised to see United win their first two games since Dwayne De Rosario got injured?

If you want to keep those happy thoughts in your head, you should just close this tab right now. Go read something else. This piece isn't about fun times; it's about looking back on our history against a team that seems to be the key ingredient to some sort of hex that has bedeviled United over the past few years.

Outside of the Chicago Fire's inexplicable ability to knock us out of the playoffs, or Brad Evans having the black magic powers to score the goal that eliminated us from the 2008 and 2009 playoffs, I submit that no team or player has brought more bad news to our door than Sunday's opponent, Chivas USA. Don't believe me? Take a stroll down memory lane:

10/4/2008: So it begins. United was at home, and for once in the absurdly congested 2008 season, we had no mid-week game. It was a game Tom Soehn's United had to have, coming as it did after two straight disastrous road losses (5-2 at LA, 3-0 at Dallas). The club was still alive in the playoff hunt, but a result against Chivas was the required minimum for a United team that had entered the season with expectations of an all-conquering season. Remember, 2008 was the year we signed our first DP in Marcelo Gallardo, and 2007's Supporters Shield-winning side was blown up in pursuit of even greater glory.

All that said, the signs weren't good even heading into the game. Jaime Moreno was suspended, and Luciano Emilio was out with a hamstring strain. Memories of 2007's sudden playoff elimination - with Moreno and Lucigol both hobbled with injuries that left them both barely able to trot, much less play soccer - were hovering, even though the crowd for the game was over 28,000.

The result was arguably the worst of a fraught season: 3-0 to the Goats, with Alecko Eskandarian opening the scoring via a disastrous mishap from prototypical madman goalkeeper Louis Crayton. Fred limped off with an injury early in the second half, and our final attempt at an impact sub was to pull Gallardo for Marc Burch. The game was so bad that the other goals were scored by Dejair - a player who debuted for Chivas on the night, made just two more appearances, then essentially vanished into thin air - and Sasha friggin' Victorine.

It was pretty much the worst...or so we thought.

10/3/2009: United was handed a five-game homestand by the MLS schedule maker before ending the season at KC, something that has probably never happened to a team that didn't spend their whole spring on the road due to stadium construction.

United entered the homestand right on the edge of the playoff chase. It appeared that five straight games at RFK would be a great platform for getting back into the playoffs after barely missing out in 2008. However, after opening the series of home games by scraping out a 1-0 win over the Wizards, United lost 2-1 to both Seattle and a hapless San Jose side.

To keep our playoff fate in our hands, this was a must-win over a team that a) we've tended to beat regularly over their short history, b) was struggling at the time (3W-2T-7L in their previous 12 games), and c) had flown cross-country. There were no excuses for anything but a win.

The result was a 2-0 loss and a performance so dire that I need newspeak to sum it up: doubleplusdire. The largest crowd of the season (over 24,000) saw Ben Olsen get sent off, and Milos Kocic managed to pull off the rare goalkeeper own goal to hand the Goats a lead. Basically, it was a nightmare.

While that night also produced one of my best stories - a Hummer brand street-legal golf cart, a Phoebe Cates doppelganger, and an impromptu performance by highly-skilled, professional classical musicians in an apartment are all involved - the fact is that United's playoff hopes were reduced to "longshot" in depressing fashion. The writing was on the wall, and United would eventually miss the playoffs by the width of a post in Kansas City.

2010: The whole season was a nightmare, but since we didn't play Chivas in the fall it doesn't really apply. Let's just pretend it does so the post works. Help me out.

9/10/2011: What a night. Chivas entered the game with major injury problems in central defense, leaving them with only their slowest possible center back pairing available. Olsen took advantage by pairing Charlie Davies with Chris Pontius, and De Ro had the simple job of simply looking to play those two speedsters in behind.

The result was arguably the best 60 minutes United played last season, only for it all to go wrong when Pontius broke his leg shortly after notching his third assist on the night. It wasn't even a malicious tackle from an opponent; Pontius actually committed a foul on the play.

What followed? Despite the brilliant efforts of Dwayne De Rosario, United would win just one more game all season and miss the playoffs after looking like a shoe-in in the days following this 3-0 road win. If seasons are often referred to as roller coasters, this was the game where the cars on our coaster detached from the tracks, sending hurtling towards the earth. Maybe we were just having too much fun.

9/21/2011: A bonus disaster! Just 11 days later, Chivas came to RFK on short rest having lost 3-2 in Chicago four days beforehand (making it six goals against in two games). It was a match United had to have against a struggling foe.

It looked like we'd take it, too. De Ro scored a few minutes before halftime, and then Ethan White scored in the early moments of the second half to stake United to a 2-0 lead. Chivas appeared dead in the water...until United simply stopped playing. A disheartening lack of mental strength allowed Chivas to get up off the mat, and by the 70th minute Juan Pablo Angel had tied the game up with a brace.

While De Ro's frustration at this game may have fueled his brilliant showing three days later - the famous 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake - the lost two points still meant quite a bit. Furthermore, the mental weaknesses on display this fateful night ended up defining the rest of our season.

***

So, here comes Chivas in late September...with us in the middle of a playoff chase...and they're struggling badly. Still feeling overconfident? If you're a fan of horror movies, you know how this story goes: Things seem fun, teens have sex, and then a star player gets injured, and the movie ends with the Goats coming from 4-0 down in stoppage time to win 5-4, with every goal being scored by...I don't know...James Riley. Or Pete Vagenas (yes, he's still in MLS).

Post your curse-reversing spells in the comments.

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