HARRISON, N.J. (AP) — Chivas USA’s Justin Braun had been around the goal in his four previous starts this season with nothing to show for it.
But a 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls on Sunday offered the forward more than even he could have expected.
Braun scored his first three goals of the season — his first career hat trick — to lead seventh-place Chivas (3-3-3) to its third win in four games.
“That’s my first (hat trick) in the MLS,” Braun said. “Definitely a cool moment for me. A coming out party.”
“You have a performance like that, you’ve certainly made a statement for yourself,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said.
Braun, signed in 2008 after he was noticed playing in a U.S. Adult Soccer Association tournament in Los Angeles, could not have picked a better venue in which to break out.
The Red Bulls, who had a four-game unbeaten streak snapped, had Major League Soccer’s second-stingiest defense with just three goals allowed entering the game.
But Chivas played an aggressive first half after lightning in the area shut down the lighting system and caused a 32-minute delay.
Braun, who had 14 shots this season, scored in the sixth minute off a shot just inside the left side of the box that beat goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul on his wide side.
Braun scored again in the 31st minute, tapping in a long chip from Heath Pearce some 10 minutes after Thierry Henry knocked in his fifth goal in five games to even it up.
If there was a bright spot for the first-place Red Bulls (4-2-3), it was that they may have found someone to take penalty kicks.
Dwayne De Rosario connected on New York’s third penalty kick of the season into the upper left corner in the 35th minute to send the teams into halftime tied 2-2.
Henry and Rafa Marquez had missed both of the team’s previous opportunities.
Braun scored the game-winner in the 56th minute off a scramble in front of the net on a direct kick.
The hat trick marked the first against the Red Bulls since Chicago’s Chris Rolfe had one on Oct. 23, 2008.
For Braun, it was the end to a frustrating first eight games.
“I’ve been struggling a bit,” Braun said. “I just wanted to show I belong in the starting 11. Just prove my worth and keep getting more and more playing time.”
Fraser may not have a choice.
“The guy scores three goals, what are you gonna do, right?” the first-year coach said. “He’s had a late start to his year. He had a lot of injuries in preseason, but he’s certainly come on in games and done well.
“Tonight was certainly his coming out party.”