Commentary: Goats doomed by lack of swagger

Chivas USA have surplus desire, but not the confidence to match

There are probably a number of different reasons why Chivas USA fell to a 3-1 defeat against Seattle in the semifinals of the US Open Cup on Wednesday evening.

READ: Recap: SEA 3, CHV 1

Maybe it was the long trip up to Washington from Los Angeles, for example. Or it could have been a result of their tough match on Sunday evening. A hostile Seattle crowd? Perhaps even the feel of a turf field after months of playing on grass?

But the truth is, while those things would certainly have an effect on any team, there’s something more habitual going on at the Home Depot Center, something that has plagued the club since its inception back in 2005:

Chivas USA have yet to win the big game when it counts.

The Red-and-White’s record in high-pressure tournament games isn't remarkable. Starting in 2006, the Goats qualified for four consecutive MLS postseasons, only to be knocked out in the first round each and every year. They’ve also been in three SuperLiga competitions, but have never made it out of the group stage.

But the worst has been the US Open Cup. The team won just one game in its first five years in the tournament, and lost to lower-division USL or amateur sides in four of out six seasons competing.

It was indeed historic that Chivas made it to the semis this year, the furthest they've ever gone in any tournament. But on Wednesday, the Goats fell right back into their old pattern. Seattle dominated the run of play for most of the evening and scored easily within the first 15 minutes of the match. Chivas USA were able to pull a goal back, but ultimately fell to a 3-1 score line.

So what gives? Why are the Goats so gun-shy when it matters?

The answer may be swagger.

In the opening minutes of Wednesday’s game, the Sounders seemed to exude a sense of certainty – a confidence that pulsed through the side: “We are going to win this game.” It’s an attitude that the Goats have been missing all year.

It’s not for lack of quality this season. First-year Goats head coach Martín Vásquez has assembled a squad that’s equal parts veteran leadership and youthful exuberance, a team that boasts an impressive mix of styles and experience.

Nor is it a lack of desire. The Red-and-White are no less intent on winning than any of their MLS competition. They work hard in training and they work hard in games. They want to win, there’s no doubt about it.

The problem is that swagger is intangible. No matter how hard you try, you can’t create it out of thin air. A team has to feel it and believe in it. They have to walk out onto the pitch for an important game and know that they’re going to win. Not think it or hope for it; know it.

Until Chivas USA can do that, they’ll be stuck in the early rounds of tournaments while other teams pass them by.