Colorado Rapids welcome a Chivas USA team on Saturday that are in complete disarray both on and off the field. Rumors of the franchise relocating to pastures new accompanied by three thrashings in a row have left Chivas fans wondering whether they'd stepped into a time machine and were back in 2012. On top of that, the mercurial Chelis seems like he has finally realized that even as good a magician as he is, he cannot work wonders with a team that he believes are not good enough for MLS. All in all, it has been a pretty tough period for Chivas USA and their fans.
The young Rapids on the other hand have continued to impress despite adversity and managed to grab a creditable draw in San Jose last weekend without the services of Edson Buddle. In contrast, Chivas succumbed to a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake at the Home Depot Center after 4-0 and 3-0 losses the two weeks previously. In these defeats there exists a common theme - Chivas tend to threaten going forward but can't score and the defence is as porous as a sieve.
With no wins in their last six, Chelis has chopped and changed the Chivas lineup but has stuck strictly to his 3-5-2 formation. His tinkering with the first eleven hasn't entirely been down to circumstances but rather much has been of his own accord. Chivas USA in recent weeks look exactly like a team that still don't really know each other too well despite playing eleven games together - the defence in particular looking pretty clueless. The trouble with how the Goats are set up is that the 3-5-2 relies greatly on the defensive capabilities and work rate of the wingbacks which, if lacking, causes the backline to get exposed any time the ball goes forward at any pace quicker than walking.
This is what has been happening with Chivas week after week and still hasn't been rectified; Jorge Villafana and Eric Avila just are not good enough at the defensive side of the game to play wingback and this has resulted in goal after goal. It leaves the central defensive trio unprotected and places undue pressure on them, often dragging them out wide leaving holes in the middle to exploit. These are the sort of situations in which the Rapids will likely find most joy on Saturday and which, if the ball can be shifted forward quick enough, will result in more than a few openings.
In the previous meeting between the two teams in which the Rapids won 1-0, the Colorado frontline often found itself 3 v 3 when on the counterattack because the Chivas wingbacks were found wanting. With DeShorn Brown and either Danny Mwanga or Atiba Harris on either wing, the Rapids will should have enough attacking threat and pace to take advantage of such situations if they arise this weekend. Bobby Burling and friends lack the pace to deal with Brown and any of the other potential Rapids starters on the wing.
Another positive for the Rapids coming into this one has to be the recent trade of Juan Agudelo out of Los Angeles to New England Revolution, blunting the Chivas frontline considerably. Without Agudelo, the Goats only have one other forward to call upon that has scored so far in this campaign and that is Tristan Bowen. The other two recognized forwards are Julio Morales and Jose Manuel Rivera - neither of which seems to offer a genuine attacking threat that could harm a Rapids backline that has conceded only three goals in their last seven games.
Dangers do still lurk in the form of Chivas' attacking play though, especially if they can find a decent goalscoring striker to replace Agudelo. The threats usually come down the wing too with the wide-men typically far up the field essentially playing as a winger rather than a wingback which is probably why they struggle to get back into position once they've given up the ball. The central midfield trio at the start of the campaign were also strong but seem to have run out of steam after only eleven games. Their job is to get around the pitch from box-to-box but in recent games that energy has been lacking and the lack of desire to get back into shape has been noticeable.
I don't want to seem complacent or over confident but, to be honest, there isn't much to be afraid of for the Rapids if they can perform as has been standard so far this season. The only real danger going forward comes from the wings in Avila who has the ability to create, but there is a distinct lack of goalscoring threat from the frontline. If Colorado can keep a lid on the creativity from the wings and Nathan Sturgis can show his worth again in the middle of the park then the Rapids should have enough defensively to cope with what Chivas may throw at them.
Going forward, we have to focus down the sides of the Chivas defence by using the pace of the wide forwards to drag the central defenders out of position and create space. If the Rapids can counterattack well and create the 3 v 3 opportunities that they had so many of the last time these two met then there will be a tonne of chances created. We just have to do a better job this time of taking them as 1-0 is too close a score line.