Chivas USA endures playoff shuffle in goal

Jones is a Times staff writer.

In a perfect world, Brad Guzan would have been Chivas USA's starting goalkeeper today when it begins its two-game Major League Soccer playoff series against Real Salt Lake in Utah.

But Aston Villa came calling in July and took the league's top shot-stopper to the English Premier League.

Having lost one U.S. national team goalkeeper, Chivas Coach Preki went out and found another, acquiring Zach Thornton from the New York Red Bulls. Thornton had the credentials, having won an MLS title with the Chicago Fire in 1998 as well as the U.S. Open Cup in 1998, 2000 and 2003.

But in early September in Toronto, Thornton suffered a torn left hamstring in a collision with Toronto forward Danny Dichio and was expected to be sidelined for a month or more.

That opened the door for Dan Kennedy, a former UC Santa Barbara goalkeeper who came on in Thornton's place, preserved the victory over Toronto and then started the next six matches, four of which Chivas USA won.

Kennedy, from Yorba Linda, looked to have made the starting position his own.

Then last weekend in Chivas USA's season finale against the defending MLS champion Houston Dynamo in Carson, referee Terry Vaughn saw fit to eject Kennedy from the match on an exceptionally dubious penalty kick call.

Even Houston Coach Dominic Kinnear opposed the red card, which meant an automatic one-game suspension for Kennedy and a return to the nets for Thornton, who will start Chivas' playoff game.

"He obviously has a lot of experience," Preki said of Thornton. "He's been there, he's played in these big games, he's won things. Hopefully, he can bring some of that to this team."

Preki agreed that Kennedy had played well enough to remain the starter. "He was playing pretty decent, I would say, and put himself in a good spot," Preki said. "Now, it's up to Zach to step in and keep that spot."

Kennedy isn't bitter, but he is saddened by the turn of events. "It's very disappointing for me," Kennedy said. "We went into that game focusing on trying to get the ball rolling into the playoffs, and I was extremely excited and happy to be a part of that."

But Vaughn's call, in which he ruled that Kennedy had tripped Houston's Nate Jaqua, dashed those hopes.

"I've seen that play 50 times, and every time I watch it I can't believe it," Kennedy said. "Zach's an experienced 'keeper, so I don't think it's going to hurt us at all in our MLS Cup hopes. We need to go there [to Salt Lake City] and get a result. Whether I'm in goal or Zach's in goal doesn't matter."

Leo Percovich, the Chivas goalkeeper coach, said there are differences between Kennedy and Thornton.

"They have different styles," he said. "Zach is an experienced guy, he's a little more strong, a little more heavy. Dan is smaller, he's a little faster, and he's younger."

Percovich said he had faith in both goalkeepers, as well as in Lance Parker, who will be Thornton's backup today. Thornton is an MLS original, having started with the league in 1996, and takes it all in stride.

"Things were just starting to come around for me when I got injured and then Dan got hot," Thornton said. "He was playing and doing a good job and unfortunately he gets a red card and I get another chance.

"That's the nature of the game. You've just got to be ready when you're called."




Net changes in 2008

*--* Goalkeeper Starts Minutes Saves Goals GAA Brad Guzan 15 1,351 48 20 1.33 Dan Kennedy 8 699 22 8 1.03 Zach Thornton 7 651 16 13 1.80 *--*

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